The big-screen love affair that has never dimmed

There was a screen, yes, some kind of panoramic experience introducing the world to Canada, and inside the pavilion it was dark and cool and transporting to maple forests and snow-capped peaks.

But I’ve scoured YouTube videos, asked on Expo ’88 Facebook fan pages, searched the Library and Archives of Canada – nothing. Could my memory be playing tricks on me? How did my mind come to equate IMAX with Expo’s values of internationalism and technological sophistication?

‘The remembering self is the storyteller, the one that ties value to overall experience.’

I’ve pieced it together a little, this faulty memory puzzle of mine. Researchers into memory might classify the confluence of fact and fiction as my “emotional” memory at work.

Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman talks about this difference as the remembering self and the experiencing self. The experiencing self is in the present, living millions of micro-moments every few seconds, which all contribute to the large, complex shape of life. Much of this detail is quickly forgotten.

Meanwhile, the remembering self is the storyteller, the one that ties value to overall experience – it’s the eight-year-old me in love with Expo ’88.

Which brings me back to IMAX. I know now that a cinema did eventually come to that part of Brisbane, but it was built more than a decade after Expo ended. I’m sure I went as a teenager, wandering through the redeveloped South Bank park lands – the old site of my beloved Expo – to get there.


Could it be that the physical proximity to a place (South Bank), which was linked with so much happiness (Expo) was enough to take a concept (IMAX) and blend it into a single, happy blob of an experience in my mind?

This confusion of experience with memory is what Kahneman refers to as one of the cognitive “traps” we can fall into when we talk about happiness. Are we talking about being happy in our lives, or being happy with our lives? To understand happiness is to understand the complexity of our different selves, to acknowledge that although we might experience something one way, we may remember it another. Both can be true.

And I guess this is where the linear trail ends for this particular memory: there was never an IMAX at Expo ’88.

But the big blob of contentment I feel when I think about it and that time of my life – a period I now realise spans more than a decade – that’s real. And it’s more the story, I suppose, of a kid being excited by the world and life in all its complexity than simply being fond of one big movie screen.

So, dim the lights and pass the popcorn. The next session’s about to begin.

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