The Spiritual Promise the Cinema Can’t Deliver

The Spiritual Promise the Cinema Can’t Deliver

The inability of entertainment to deliver on its promises gives us the opportunity to do something different, to live and worship in a way that resolves the paradox of the AMC ad. The high priestess of Hollywood assures us we can be reborn together, but there she sits—alone in a cold, dark theater. Meanwhile, the church lifts up the Great High Priest who made it possible for us to be truly reborn—

The past five years have been challenging for the box office. The pandemic turned theaters into ghost towns. More and more people stream movies online nowadays. Production delays, and now a writers’ strike—all this has slowed the output from Hollywood.

Moviemakers have done their best to beckon us back to the theater, lifting up the big screen as a place to set aside distractions, gather with friends and family, and immerse ourselves in the stories being told.

Nicole Kidman and AMC

The cinematic promise is epitomized in AMC Theatres’ one-minute spot featuring Nicole Kidman. It begins as she strolls through a rainy night to the theater, gently lifting her hood as if she were a Jedi. Meanwhile, her voice describes the “magic” of the cinema, where we learn to laugh, to cry, and to care. As she ascends the stairs, she celebrates the “indescribable feeling as the lights dim” and we get the chance to go to another world. Kidman is the high priestess of this spiritual experience. We’re not there “just to be entertained,” she says, but to be “somehow reborn, together.”

The AMC ad was an unexpected hit, its rhapsodic script inspiring a parody on Saturday Night Live that expanded Kidman into a superhero and surrounded her with moviegoers who salute the screen as new adherents to this quasi religion. The ad elicited numerous memes and good-natured ribbing, especially for the unintentional campiness of the line “Heartbreak feels good in a place like this.”

Deeper Longing

Every effective marketing campaign taps into deeper longings than the surface-level issues it addresses. It’s a running joke every year when Super Bowl commercials wow us with attention-grabbing humor or inspiring stories that often have little to no connection with the brand being represented. (A longer Christmas ad for Chevy last year, a tearjerker if ever there was one, emphasizes the nostalgic power of the brand while implying a Chevy truck can reverse dementia.)

It’s no surprise, then, that AMC wants to portray itself as more than a place where you can see a good movie at a decent price with comfortable seats; the theater offers an experience that fulfills a more profound need. Something deeper than mere entertainment. Rebirth is the goal.

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