“Make it stop” – Cinema going, Indonesia

You’re in Indonesia, what’s the last thing you have on your mind? A trip to the big screen?
If travel were a game, to my mind, the rules include; try new things, avoid activities you could do at home, make the most of everything…

The four of us Pre-Woman in Black, Borobudur, Indonesia
The four of us Pre-Woman in Black, Borobudur, Indonesia

We were in Indonesia. Java to be mildly precise. Yogyakarta to be exact. Following a hard day’s scootering out to the ancient temples of Borobudur (when I say scootering, for me that meant sitting pillion), we were eager for some entertainment – anything requiring zero-effort, a way to relax. Too tired to entertain ourselves, someone suggested making a trip to the local cinema. Feeling like a cheat, I reluctantly went along. But really I couldn’t do this at home. I couldn’t go to the cinema with my friend Chung from The Netherlands, and Jake from Seattle, and my boyfriend at the time, Nick. Chances are after this trip we’d never be in the same country all at one time, let alone the same island, town and cinema. Plus sometimes you need a break from sight-seeing and being a foreigner and being a tourist and, conversation…

So we went to the local cinema. Packed with excited locals. Couples out for a date. Groups of friends holding hands, out for a friend-date. And us – four bules (the word Indonesians use to describe foreigners, usually caucasians – not offensively, as far as we were generally aware/convinced ourselves), out on a travel date. There were many films showing – most of which I can’t remember but seemed well-aligned to what might be showing in the UK/US around the time, March 2012. Debating over the film options, our main criteria was enough pre-cinema snack time to make it to Wendy’s down the road and back. Jake was keen to indulge in American home comfort food. My only Wendy’s recollection came from ‘The Santa Claus’ with Tim Allen, where he pronounces it an ‘American institution’ – to try justifying his replacement for the burnt chicken on Christmas Eve to his son Charlie. After some minor deliberation, and minor fear from the guys, we decided on ‘Woman in Black.’

Have you seen ‘Woman in Black?’ You may confuse it with Harry Potter at first, not for any witchcraft or wizardry – there is a cat – though it doesn’t transform into Professor McGonagall – but for Mr Radcliffe appearing on screen. Then you notice his forehead is unblemished, his eyes are but two and he isn’t living in a cupboard, and all of a sudden your mind is falling, spiralling into a pit of delusion, it’s like seeing a teacher outside of school for the first time, in your mind Daniel Radcliffe is Harry Potter (in 2012). But then as your mind is clambering to stretch itself around this uncomfortable truth, you scream. Then giggle. Then scream again. There’s no time to grasp reality because the scream is a genuine scare-induced scream, unless you’re as hard as nails, or a psychopath, because this film takes no prisoners and with no magical way out, you know Harry’s not around. It’s frightening with a capital F. Luckily the giggle comes, encouraged by the fits of laughter pouring out around you – it’s so scary it’s funny – in the minds of locals. The whole cinema is chuckling. You couldn’t help but join in. Except Chung, Chung was hunched in a ball. His head hidden behind his knees (this is a film studies graduate) anxiously spluttering ‘make it stop!’

No can do Chungster. No can do for the duration of the entire film. Scream, giggle, scream. This was almost a continuous routine of vocal actions throughout the whole thing. We went in looking to relax with a film, we came out stressed. Jake and Chung instantly lit up a cigarette to take the edge off. I couldn’t eat my dinner. Nick had no vice but seemed spooked – a rarity with him (forever never scared). It was intense all round. I really never expected these guys, two of whom were travelling Asia solo, to be so affected by this lady veiled in hate and revenge. But she got them. She got us all. The rocking chair’s still creaking, ‘she never forgets’…

Leaving the cinema, outside was veiled in unfamiliarity. It was dark, we felt disoriented. We found a small, dark restaurant built into a row of closed buildings, close to the cinema, we needed a distraction but this wasn’t helping to lighten our mood. The film was meant to transport us away from our current surreal-reality, we hadn’t seen many other tourists for a while. Instead it took us to another, even more unsettling paranormal world. Yet, contrastingly, the act of doing something familiar was a great escape from travel in itself. Funny how travel is usually an escape, but sometimes you need an escape to escape the escape.

Before getting tied up in escapee knots, and overanalysing the whole situation, the point is, going to the cinema was kind of like being at home, but also a cultural experience in itself. It’s never felt such a community experience before – usually it’s my friends and I laughing through horror films, no shared sense of humour from other watchers, just death stares. I realised how often being away I was experiencing nature, culture or eating new foods. Cinema-going (of course only for those earning the money to afford it) is just as popular in Yogyakarta as it is in England, in a culture that felt, and by nature, is, so far removed from the one I grew up in. And with everyone screaming and gasping and giggling, it was so much fun.

Plus I experienced an American institution, thanks Jake, and Wendy.

Do you think I’m exaggerating with the scare-level of Woman in Black? Have you ever been to the cinema whilst away and felt guilty? Or loved it? Or had a bizarre experience? Please let me know in the comments below!

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