Cinema Purgatorio and the Ball-Pond from Hell


Screen 2, Row E, third seat on the left

Hell, Dante tells us, has nine circles, each one reserved for souls guilty of particular sins.

The greedy, for example, go to the Third Circle, while heretics are flung down into the Fourth. If you’ve lived a lustful life, full of debauchery and fornication, you will find yourself in the second circle, writhing and naked with millions of other lustful souls who – wait, how exactly is that a punishment?

According to Dante, the worst Circles of Hell are reserved for fraudsters and traitors, suggesting that he’d had an unfortunate disagreement with his publisher over royalties. But the great Italian fell short in his demonic visions, because there is another Circle of Hell: the Tenth.

It is a place of infinite suffering and utter despair, echoing with the wailing of the damned.

It is a movie theatre called Cinepolis Junior.

The company responsible for this living nightmare is a Mexican chain of movie theatres called Cinepolis, presumably Senior, although given that it’s Mexican that might be Señor.
Señor Cinepolis wants to get more children into its cinemas. But, as the LA Times explained in its coverage of the diabolical new scheme, it can be “hard for young children to sit still for two hours, and that can turn a trip to the movies into an ordeal for parents”.
Cinepolis’s solution? Turn it into an ordeal for everyone, so parents don’t have to suffer alone.

That’s why they are building playgrounds inside movie theatres.

Jungle gyms. Beanbags. Slides.

Inside the theatre. Just next to the seats.

May God have mercy on our souls.

Apart from the fact that I’m pretty sure this violates the Geneva Convention, I can’t see how this satanic intervention is going to encourage children to watch films. It’s like primary schools deciding to teach children by taking them to a paintball range. Sure, they’ll see the odd word on a few signposts, and they’ll certainly sound out their letters – “Aaaaa! Eeeee! Miss, he shot me in the face! Oooooo!” – but I’m not convinced it will engender in them a lifelong love of literature.

One could argue that Señor Diablo isn’t actually doing it for the kiddies but is rather offering exhausted parents a chance to spend two hours asleep in a comfortable chair while their offspring gambol about in a tiny bespoke zoo. But then why go to the movies at all? Or is the secret hope that some other parents, slightly less sleep-deprived and more community-minded than yourself, will look after your brood as well as theirs?

the Devil himself has gone into the movie business

No, there are only two logical explanations for this monstrosity. Either Cinepolis was sold the idea by Netflix (“No, really, this will totally get more people into cinemas. Heh heh.”) or the Devil himself has gone into the movie business.

Then again, my own cinema-going history is peppered with fairly hellish moments.
For example, you haven’t known mortification until your parents have taken 11-year-old you to see Dirty Dancing, and, as the resort dancers indulge in some off-duty bum-grabbing and pelvis-grinding, you’ve prayed for the earth to open up and swallow you whole.

Likewise, there was the time I took a girlfriend to see Titanic and she began to sob the moment the film began. I was perturbed. Was it something I’d said? Had she just received terrible news via SMS on her incredibly expensive and stylish Nokia 3110? “No,” she sobbed, “I just know what’s going to happen.”

Happen? But . that was still three hours away! And if she was blubbing now, with everyone still alive, what was it going to be like when Kate and Leo went overboard and tried to cling to that plank? Would she be screaming and thrashing and tearing out her hair? And how could I ask that question without seeming callous? Worse, people were starting to glare at me. Bastard. He’s taken her to the movies to break up with her, and he couldn’t even wait until the end. Bastard.

Mostly, however, hell is other people, the ones you don’t know: the wrapper-rustlers, the straw slurpers, the chair kickers, or simply those peculiar innocents who don’t seem to understand that the story will unfold within the next 90 minutes.

“How is Frodo going to get away from the spider?” they cry. “Hey? How?!” I long to take them aside and tell them that the studio paid $300-million just so that their question would be answered. But mostly I want to ask them why they seem so unfamiliar with the conventions of storytelling. Did they have particularly busy parents? “‘Goldilocks gasped: the three bears had returned! And then – Sorry, love, got to take this call. Good night.”

No, I have to admit that I’ve never had the idyllic cinema experience – cinema paradiso. My consolation, however, is that Mexico and California are a world away, and I will never endure cinema purgatorio, either. Cinepolis Junior? Hell no.


Published in The Times


Why I don’t run. Ever.

chariotsIt was my first time in a cinema and I was agog.

People dipped discreetly into boxes of chocolate-covered nuts. There were carpets on the walls. An entire seat just for me. And not the usual rubbish designed for children, made of Marmite-proof, Oros-repellent plastic: this one was upholstered in the kind of plush, red velvet you can only dream of when you’re six. Best of all, we’d come to see Chariots Of Fire, a film about two of my favourite things at the time: chariots and fire.

When we opened on a beach in Scotland, with no sign of burning two-wheelers, I was disappointed. But only for a moment. Soon I was bewitched by the iconic theme, clean as endorphins pulsing through a brain; hypnotised by the white-clad figures skipping through the St Andrews surf.

One of them seemed to be overcome with some sort of rapture, throwing back his head and sprinting ahead. This was Eric Liddell, the Scottish missionary who ran for God first and Great Britain second. Running, it seemed, was not just beautiful and poetic. It was spiritual.

Ten years later, on a wind-scoured field in Cape Town, I remembered Liddell and his animal delight in running fast and far. Like Liddell, I was wearing white running togs and was surrounded by swift young men.I, too, had thrown my head back. But this wasn’t Scotland and I wasn’t Liddell. This was physical education and my head was thrown back because I was close to death and fighting for breath. Also, I knew that if I looked down I would begin to vomit and not stop until I had heaved up all my internal organs.

Some of my classmates might have been filled with the Holy Spirit, but I was filled with an unholy rage: the burning in my lungs and legs was nothing compared to the fiery loathing I felt for my gym teacher.

His instructions had been clear and stupid. We would have to run around the field a certain number of times in under a certain number of minutes (I want to say it was 6000 times in under two minutes, but I might be misremembering). If anyone failed, everyone would have to do it again.

Had nobody understood the underlying message of Forrest Gump?

Now he stood there, stopwatch in his paw, yapping at me out of his meaty face like a sock puppet stuffed with raw mincemeat. Next to him stood the gazelles who had finished in under the stipulated time, squeaking at me to run faster so that they didn’t have to do it all again and maybe break a sweat this time. God, how I hated them. How I hated Chariots of Fire with its lies about the joys of running and its ridiculous absence of burning chariots. How I hated this world in which runners are admired and walkers – sensible, civilised, non-vomiting walkers – are shouted at. Had nobody understood the underlying message of Forrest Gump? Had nobody realised that if you run often and for no reason, you will end up being shot in the buttocks, your childhood sweetheart will lie to you and die, and your momma will be Sally Field?

I have not run since that day. Now and then I have scuttled. I have been known to skedaddle. Once, when threatened, I high-tailed it. But I do not run. And this has given me the space and tranquility to understand that running is not only unnatural and hateful, but that it’s not even a thing. It’s really just an endlessly deferred fall onto your face.

This is usually the part where runners object angrily, their resting heart rate surging to around 20 beats a minute, and point out that humans owe much of their success to running. They explain that we are one of the few species that can sweat while we run; that our ancestors simply ran their overheated prey to a standstill.

I don’t dispute the history. But I ask you: did those brave ancestors run so that we would have to keep running? No. They ran so that we wouldn’t have to. They pounded across the plains and reduced their feet to calloused nubbins so that you and I could walk to our kitchen and put a non-perishable food-like substance into our mouths. To run is to spit in the sweaty, pain-etched faces of our forebears, and I for one refuse to be so disrespectful.

Thank you, ancient hunter.I honour you, and I chew open this carton of custard to celebrate the race you ran for all of us.


First published in The Times and TimesLive