In La La Land, a paean to Hollywood's Golden Age that's already become one of this year's most talked-about pictures, there's a scene where Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone's characters sit back in an old-fashioned cinema, Rebel Without A Cause (and, OK, each other) occupying their full attention.
It's a nicely meta moment in what is essentially an extended love letter to the movies, but it's also a reminder of how cinema-going is becoming a lost art. La La Land takes place in the present day, but it's a Technicolour present where people sing songs on the freeway during LA traffic jams and mobile phones are conspicuous by their absence. In real life, it's sadly less probable that you'll be sat next to Ryan Gosling in Screen Four: you're much more likely to end up a few seats along from someone who thinks that the opening night of the latest Star Wars film is the perfect time to check their emails, plan a few social engagements on Whatsapp and find love on Tinder. And thanks to a rumoured Apple update, it's only going to get worse.
According to regular Apple ‘leaker’ Sonny Dickson, the next iOS will feature ‘theatre mode,’ allowing iPhone and iPad owners to use their devices in a darkened cinema – and allowing them to pretend that doing so isn’t, you know, an entirely anti-social faux pas.
This is a leak and not an official announcement, so details are pretty sketchy. Some outlets whisper about a ‘dark mode,’ auto-dimming the iPhone’s glare to make your scrolling less distracting for fellow cinemagoers (chivalry ain’t dead – it just comes as an operating system update now!) Others are reckoning on a silent mode that restricts notifications for the duration of a film. The one thing everyone does agree on is the logo: a box of popcorn. That’s cute of you, Apple. So very cute.
It might come veiled as a polite, thoughtful, nice gesture, but this update can't help but feel like a tech giant's latest attempt to gain ownership over every part of our lives. Yes, 'theatre mode' might let you use your phone in a way that's (marginally) less annoying to those around you, but there's a much easier solution to the so-called 'problem' - switching it off.
I watched A Monster Calls recently. It's a lovely film, and a very sad film, and it's no spoiler to say that there's one particularly devastating moment that's totally silent. Of course, in my screening, this was the point where someone's phone went off, with the especially offensive Apple tone you've probably got set as your morning alarm. You know, the one that sends your body into fight or flight mode, whatever time of day you hear it. Everyone in the room got wrenched out of the story at its emotional apex - however much I enjoyed it (and cried), it just wasn't the same from that point on. You've doubtless got a similar story: handing over the best part of £20 only to have the cinema lit up by the glare of tiny screens, or wondering whether to tell your friend off for being dragged into a Whatsapp spiral mid-film.
Just like those old Orange adverts used to tell us in a pre-smartphone era, phones ruin films. Whatever it is that I'm watching, part of the reason I love being in a cinema is that it's one of the few times in my week when I give my attention fully to one thing (and that's not meant to be a 'busy' humblebrag; more an admission of guilt). It might be a slight concession to those around you, but Apple's update implies that it's still OK to use your phone in what should be a phone-free zone and, by extension, to deprive someone in the audience of that special time (because your time is more important).
The escapism of a film isn't always about fanciful plot twists or CGI: sometimes it's more about not weighing yourself down with your own world for a few hours, and committing to a different one for that duration. You can't do that when you're flitting from big screen to small.