The last time I would ever be in Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas was the first time I went to the movie theater alone.
The beloved Berkeley theater closed its doors at the tail end of spring like a blossom clipped too soon. Though the cinema had operated in Downtown Berkeley for more than 30 years, I had only discovered it a week prior to its closing, which made the timing feel especially cruel.
Around dusk, I wandered into the lobby for a 7:00 p.m. screening. In front of me, a woman tucked her wallet back into her outrageously large bag. “So you guys close tomorrow, huh?” The usher nodded wordlessly, ripping a ticket and handing it to her. It was a simple, automatic motion granting entry — a mechanical routine that would soon come to a halt.
I found myself following the woman into theater one, the title “Everything Everywhere All at Once” squeezed into the header above the threshold. Just a week before, I had wandered through those same doors to watch “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” with friends.
Unsurprisingly, the film’s multiverse proved to be more thoughtful than Marvel’s. Bizarre delirium unspooled over two hours, the film stringing along plotlines with knots of metaphysical magic and googly eyes and bagels galore. Tangled yet touching, the feature wove a prickly cat’s cradle of twisted, acute absurdism.
Wild hysteria spluttered and sparked into rolling credits, and seats groaned as people stood to leave. Involuntary sighs sounded and stretched arms sprouted over seats. I like wallowing in that dreamy, speculative feeling after watching a film for the first time, so I stayed and sat through the acknowledgements.
Time moves differently in the darkness of a cinema, and its passage seemed even more peculiar as I sat alone. Unfortunately, cinemas often feel wearisome to me; I struggle to stay awake seated in a dim, cozy room, so I usually have to rely on friends to keep me alert. But, to my surprise, consuming art by myself didn’t feel as lonely as I thought it would.
I wasn’t alone in Berkeley, but the fact that this was my first summer away from home weighed on my chest with a dull heartache. As my friends returned to their hometowns or traveled abroad, my adjustment after a busy spring felt like trying to sprint underwater. Suddenly aware of my singularity, sitting in the inert timelessness of the theater tinted everything a summery amber.
Still, there was something about the theater that draped comfort around my reflections. Although this was only my second time there, the old theater twinkled with a familiar personality. It bore the warmth of wrinkles around smiling eyes, and I sensed a trace of home in a place I barely knew — in a place I would never be able to return to.
The dim red lights lining the walkways eventually unblurred, yet my unwillingness to leave the theater caught me off guard. I had only experienced the weight of goodbye temporarily with loved ones, not ever quite with a place. I was likely struck by the permanence of parting, the visceral awareness that I would never be here again.
The feeling wasn’t quite a heavy sadness or a lingering disappointment; instead, something closer to longing settled over me. I didn’t want the cinema to dissolve into the distance, its legacy to trickle away with time. There’s an upsetting irony to watching a film about nihilism in a theater about to be torn down, but as I rose from my seat, I felt strangely whole.
Everything feels different when you know it’s the last time. You pay more attention to the little things. You actively let the memory stick. As I left the theater, the ushers smiled at me, and I waved goodbye, my gaze flicking upward to the googly eyes centered on their temples.
Leaving was bittersweet, but maybe memory is less a tattoo and more an adhesive — sometimes, you can choose what sticks. Perhaps, rather than serving as signals of definitive resolution, goodbyes can be glimpses into reminiscence.
Dusk softly dissolved into nighttime, and people still strolled beneath the winking lights of Downtown Berkeley. I fished around in my purse for my phone, finding the folded movie ticket stub stuck to my screen. I was always one for mementos.
As I wandered down Shattuck Avenue, scenes from the movie impulsively popped into my head. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is one of those films that you realize you’ll never see for the first time again. It’s also one of those movies that never quite ends. Lines of dialogue and characters’ expressions flitter into your head for days and months later.
With a familiar tenderness, these replays and rewinds ripple with a malleable nostalgia that subtly works its way into your life. You can leave the theater, but the film appears in everything; it remains everywhere. It weaves itself into your everyday, in little shards and fragments and splinters — until one day, it comes back. All at once.