And yet, I see these external factors – valid as they may be – as mere catalysts in the decline of cinema attendance and appreciation.

In my view, the real cause is that we tend to consume movies like fast food: We’re just looking for a quick and filling experience, not necessarily one that’s satisfying. 


For many so-called practical Singaporeans, going to the cinemas is an unnecessary indulgence. It’s the fat we trim when we have to tighten our purse strings, one of the first few items to be culled from our monthly expenditure in our quest for FIRE. As long as we still get to watch the movie in the end, who cares where and how we watch it? 

Personally, I choose to cut out ridiculous S$30 (or even S$20) brunch outings and refuse to fork out a kidney for my gym membership, if only so I can escape to a movie showing whenever I feel like it. I usually emerge from a cinema hall so mentally stimulated, excited to spend the next 10 hours watching YouTube essays about the movie’s set design or reading 5,000-word film critiques about a particular scene – even if the movie didn’t quite live up to the hype. 

I still go down these rabbit holes if I watch the movie at home, which I do very often. But admittedly, my decision depends on the movie – I tend to save the action flicks and psychological thrillers for the laptop, and prefer to see the emotional tear-jerkers on the big screen. 

When I caught Oscar-nominated Past Lives on my internet browser after missing it in theatres, I could only sense muted emotions, even though I enjoyed the storyline. Instead of being immersed in the protagonist’s inner war, torn between devotion to the life she’s built and a longing for part of her history, I simply made out a half-hearted, fleeting semblance of melancholy. Truly, some films demand to be seen and felt in the cinema. 

Even if I had a world class surround sound system at home, I wouldn’t be able to replicate the cinema experience. Going to the cinema is also, ultimately, about having a third place – a place to relax and hang out beyond the workplace or the private, domestic space of one’s home.

Understandably, the things I prioritise might be what others forgo, and vice versa. But Singapore’s highly efficient and pragmatic culture seeps into every aspect, as do our pretty homogeneous lifestyle preferences and priorities – just look at our cookie-cutter malls. So we might, in fact, eventually have one or two cinema halls left in Singapore. 

In the meantime, the simple joy of going to the cinema is still there for the taking. It would be regrettable if we denied ourselves life’s little luxuries that we can afford, but it would be a greater shame if the loss is one we later realise we can’t afford.


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