What is keeping you here in the burning theater?
Is it really so important to you, to see
how the movie ends? A synopsis should suffice.
The good guys and the bad guys all shoot guns
at one another — guts and bone, crushed skulls,
decapitations, explosions galore. Cops and criminals
compete to see who can be the most brutal.
When the dust has settled, and the square-jawed
hero finally kisses the girl, you wonder what you
are supposed to see in the eyes of this disturbed
individual — a murderer, like every other action
hero. Are we supposed to rejoice that his
kill count was the highest, that his unique,
exquisite physique and psychopathy allowed him
to survive to the end of the feature?
It looked so much more compelling in the previews.
You want your money back, along with the last
hour-and-a-half of your existence, so frivolously spent,
but these are now the property of the cineplex.
No sense crying over spilled milk. Did I mention
that the theater is on fire? The room is filling
with smoke, obscuring your view of the screen.
Why do you just keep staring straight ahead,
as flames feed greedily on the soundproof
batting all around you? Alarms are sounding,
and even the crackle of gunfire cannot fully
drown them out. Exits are located at both the front
and rear of the theater, and they are clearly marked.
A few in the crowd emerge from their trance, shaking
their heads, wondering how they could have been so
totally immersed in fantasy, while all around them
real fires were plainly raging. “Excuse me, people,”
says one man, meek but loud, clearly not in the habit
of leadership or public speaking, but compelled,
by the circumstances, to deviate from routine.
“You may have noticed that we are all quite close
to being burnt alive. Please do not be alarmed,”
he adds. “Try not to panic.” Five milllion silhouetted
heads turn on him all at once, index fingers pressed
perpendicular to unseen lips. The man is surprised
to find himself surrounded by so many. Adjoining
cushioned seats stretch on for miles, as far as the eye can
see. Five million annoyed exhalations, simultaneously.
shhhhh! “Could you please sit down,” snaps a frazzled
hackey mam from the seat directly behind his.
“My kids can’t see the screen.”
“That may have something to do with the smoke,”
suggests the standing man, with all due deference.
“We may want to stay near to the ground.
Smoke rises, you know, and it’s getting pretty thick.”
Cough. “Well I say you can either love it or leave it,”
barks a bloated nascar fanatic from the back of the hall,
every stitch of his checkered-flag clothing
now engulfed in flame. “Next time you want to go
into some theater and start spoutin’ off about smoke
and fire, you might want to think about the brave men
and women who fought and died for your freedoms.”
“I don’t see how these two things could be related,” says
the standing man now thoughtfully, utterly perplexed.
The flabby cheeks and forehead of the nascar fanatic
bubble and blacken, his plastic mesh cap flares briefly
and disappears, leaving his skinless cranium exposed,
his nose a dual-chambered absence in the center of
his face. “You can either love it or leave it,” he croaks
once more, and finally collapses, slumping over the row of
seats directly in front of him. His black-charred abdomen
ruptures on the hard metal seat backs, and spills its
reeking cargo on the shoulders of his fellow movie-goers,
who remain seated, unflinching, staring straight ahead
at the smoke-blotted screen. The screams of innocents
and sirens wail, and they all just sit there,
draped in another man’s dripping innards.
At the back of the theater, black-suited men have
begun to mobilize, distributing automatic weapons
and neat little stacks of fifties, crates of ammunition
and hand grenades. All the naughty little boys
look around with nervous grins before snatching up
the bounty. Nobody is watching. Some are coughing,
hacking, keeling over in their seats, but they are
nonetheless determined to watch this film to its end.
People are burning and bubbling, but sitting quietly.
Periodically some are torn apart by the shrapnel
of a lobbed grenade. All the naughty little boys are
ecstatic. Everyone just stares at the blazing screen.
The standing man shakes his head in dismay.
What is the matter with these people?
Do we inhabit the same plane of reality?
“Whatever happened to Newton’s Third Law of Motion?”
he screams at five milion idiot silhouettes.
Nothing makes sense here anymore.
And then he turns away — from all of them
somehow, though he seems to be surrounded —
makes his way carefully down the aisle,
opens a door clearly marked “EXIT,”
and steps out into the cool night air.