Space, Time and the Cinema


“Time has a critical importance when it comes to fitting people and things together for functioning in socio-economic systems”

These famous words, written by Torsten Hägerstrand in 1970, played a pivotal role in shaping the concept of Time and Space Geography. A concept  which has effectively broadened our understanding of the nature of human social behavior and is still very much relevant to today.

“Hägerstrand used the space-time path to demonstrate how human spatial activity is often governed by limitations, and not by independent decisions by spatially or temporally autonomous individuals”…”He identified three categories of limitations, or ‘constraints’; These refer to the limitations on human movement due to physical or biological factors” (John Corbet).

For example, it is imposable to be in two places at one time and you cannot travel instantaneously from one location to another, which means “a certain trade off must be made between space and time”. The three Constraints are:

1. Capability – can I get there?

2. Coupling – Can I get there at the right time?

3. Authority – Am I allowed to be there?

Last week I attended a movie with a group of friends and It was intriguing to notice just how much these three constraints affected my spacial movements. To begin with, at this time, my phone was temporarily out of action due to an unforeseen bathroom occurrence. Needless to say it fell into the bowl and was rendered useless. As a result of this mishap, my communications were restricted to words spoken to those within my direct vicinity and messages sent through Facebook. It was in the morning just before I left for work that my boyfriend FB messaged me about seeing Guardians Of The Galaxy that night. He told me the time it was on and asked if he should by tickets for us and our friends. This is where the first constraint (Capability) comes in. I was about to go to work, which meant I wouldn’t be free until 8:00pm. The movie started at 8:20pm. My attendance to the movie and thereby my spatial movement pattern would be determined on whether closing the store took longer or shorter than usual. Unfortunately there was no way for me to be closing the store and attending the movie at the same time.

The third constraint (Authority) only made it harder for me to get there in time. The remaining parking spots were handicapped ones and as this is space I am not legally allowed to park in, I had to drive further away and park on a side street.

The Coupling constraint affected me heavily as there was no way for my friends to contact me. This meant there was a limited amount of time my friends would wait before thinking I was not coming and entering the cinema with the ticket purchased for me. If I did not make it in time to meet them I would not be going at all. It all depended on how quickly I could get to the cinema at the other end of town. If our paths of time and spacial movements did not cross the event of me watching the movie could not occur. Authority would also be a factor here again because if I missed them I would not have a ticket and would not be allowed to enter the room they were in.

As it can be seen from this example “human spatial activity is often governed by limitations, and not by independent decisions”. However my eagerness to see Guardians Of The Galaxy made my motivation to overcome these limitations much stronger.  In my mind nothing was going to stop me and let me just say it was worth all the effort, great film.

The concept of Space and Time Geography did not just stop there, once inside (having made it in time), our movement patterns were affected further. It was a late session on a Tuesday night, so the cinema was practically empty. Authority lost its limitability here as we could sit wherever we wanted. There was not enough people for someone to say “you’re sitting in my seat”. With this new found freedom we decided to sit back and center, spacing the seats out between the six of us, so we could all lie down and put our feet up on the chairs in front. We didn’t have to worry about hogging seats, sitting too close to strangers, fidgeting or making too much noise. We were free to move about as we pleased. At one point we simultaneously climbed the chairs moving several rows ahead to pull a prank on a friend while they were in the bathroom. This type of behavior would not be possible had we selected a busier time.More people = more social constraints.

The emptiness of the cinema made me question the longevity of cinemas in general. Earlier in this post I said it was impossible to be in two places at once, but with the creation of the Internet, that law sort of changes. When you’re online you can be everywhere at once not Physically off course but you get what I’m saying. The point is with the internet, a couch and a projector you can be at the cinema from the comfort of your own home. So why go to the cinema at all?

Personally I still prefer the experience of going out to the movies, it’s still a social activity for me, and makes movies way more exciting. Although I only like to go on weekdays during off peak hours, so I can misbehave as much as I please. As for the continuity of the cinema industry I am unsure, but what I do know is that my movie going experience is shaped dramatically by time.


Corbett, J 2001, Torsten Hägerstrand: Time Geography, Center for Spatially Integrated Social Sciences, viewed 29 September 2014, <;.

One thought on “Space, Time and the Cinema

  1. Pingback: Australia and the Stick of Censorship | ermahblurg

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s