Is hypnosis the future of cinema?

Göteborg Film Festival will put select audiences in a trance this year. Alternatively, you could just watch 'Cats'

You are feeling sleepy, veeeery sleeeepyyyy… No, you’re not five hours into a Peter Jackson documentary about The War On Drugs, you’re at this year’s Göteborg Film Festival in Sweden, and you’re going under.

Scandinavia’s biggest annual movie-TV happening has been getting a name for itself as the forum for unusual and experimental movie watching experiences. Previously they’d screened a programme of religious films in places of worship and staged interactive viewings of Anna Odell’s The Examination with the viewer legs akimbo in a gynaecological chair. Last year, with screening capacities dropped to just eight – yeah, Sweden had pandemic restrictions, who knew? – they took the opportunity to magnify the lockdown experience by sending one solitary film fanatic to a North Sea lighthouse island. There, the lucky cinephile binged all 60 premieres in a week with no contact with the outside world. Legend has it, three days in, they overdosed on sourdough.

This year’s big gimmick is The Hypnotic Cinema. “We wanted to see what happens when you go even further into the mode of spectatorship,” said Artistic Director Jonas Holmberg. So the audiences of three select films – Christian Tafdrup’s Speak No Evil, Land Of Dreams by the celebrated Shirin Neshat and Shoja Azari and Cannes Jury prize winner Memoria from Apichatpong Weerasethakul – will undergo a mass hypnosis before the screening to put them in a specific state of mind suitable for each film. And judging by the freaky-as-fuck trailer for the event, full of man-voiced children and dancing professors with mouths for eyes, that state of mind is Lynch On Ketamine.

Now, I can see the benefits of hypnotic cinema. I might have got through Cats if the hypnotist had also cured my aversion to James Corden. It might well heighten the visceral experience of watching a horror or disaster film if we’re rendered artificially nervous for two hours and we’d have all had much happier and fulfilling lives if convinced by hypnosis that Adam Sandler is funny.

Our ability to suspend disbelief in movies only goes so far – we’ll go along with the most outlandish plot points for the sake of a good yarn but nobody believes anybody’s head is actually exploding, that serial killers spend that much time standing motionless in doorways out of focus, or that all those 22-year-olds really fancy Woody Allen. Imagine how transportive it would be if we were completely immersed in a Star Wars, Jumanji or Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Picture the Sodom and Gomorrah scenes – akin to Russell Brand’s house in 2006 – that would result from a hypnotist convincing audiences about to watch 50 Shades Of Grey that they are feeling horny, veeery hooorny…

Well I’ve imagined it, just now, and let me tell you it’s frigging terrifying. Were we conditioned to find most cinema more affecting, with its relentless violence, tragedy, death, crisis points and jump scares, then the average trip to Cineworld would leave many of us deeply traumatised. And that’s without all the other potential pitfalls. Revisiting your every childhood trauma at the first glimpse of a triggering issue. Finding yourself sat next to someone loudly reverting to their former life as a Trojan warrior or the singer in Queen. Reaching a nail-biting climax only to find you’ve been brainwashed out of biting your nails.

What’s more, how can you be totally certain that some rogue hypno hasn’t slipped in a subconscious command that makes you, forevermore, do the ‘Gangnam Style’ dance every time you hear the words “I’m afraid it’s terminal”? No, sod watching Derren Brown’s Full Metal Jacket, I prefer my escapism with a side order of psychological grounding, thanks. If they want to get us watching films in altered states, it’d be much safer just to introduce a Quaalude box in the pick’n’mix.

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