Note: This essay was originally published on April 21st, 2020.
When I was a kid, I used to think movies were either fun or funny, preferably both. I wanted to laugh or I wanted to scream (if I hadn’t been socialized to bury my sensitive side, I probably would have admitted that I wanted to cry, too). I loved School of Rock and Pirates of the Caribbean and Ocean’s 11. And yes, I ducked down in the front row of Titanic, my family seven rows behind me, bawling my eyes out.
In high school, I realized movies were about finding someone who felt the pain I was feeling, the pleasures I was discovering, the life I was creating in each new moment. My eyes were glued to Little Miss Sunshine and Superbad and Easy A and The Breakfast Club.
In college, I finally understood that movies were a way to broaden my horizons, a way to understand the people and the places and the lives that I haven’t lived or crossed paths with. Maybe not to understand, but to see, I mean really see. Empathize at least a little bit. I devoured Short Term 12 and Fruitvale Station.
It wasn’t until law school that movies took on their real meaning – an escape from the suffocation of life, from the books and the ambition and the sharp elbows and the boring, boring, god such boring legal writing. I sunk into cushy movie seats at the end of long days and weeks and semesters to let whatever was playing take me away – Ex Machina and Mad Max: Fury Road and Sing Street.
Then I fell deeper and deeper into that ridiculous world of the big screen, and movies became more, far more. They were a reflection of the world and the culture where (and when) they were made. Sometimes, they were a hopeful or presciently pessimistic prediction of what the world might become. They were art to be studied and dissected, but they were also magic, the type of magic that makes you throw up your hands, stop trying to figure out how or why or even what is happening, and just let the sensations wash over you.
For my whole life, every time movies have taken on new meaning, I’ve cast aspersions on my past self – what an idiot I was. So young. So immature. So naïve. I used to think movies were just about entertainment. I only sought out films to confirm my own worldview. How narrow-minded.
The truth? It’s that guy who was the idiot this whole time. Because movies are all of these things – that’s why movies are special. That’s why I miss movies, and movie theaters in particular, so much right now.
Movies are the global populist art (or entertainment – whichever you prefer). Not because they are the most accessible (those ticket prices!), and certainly not because they’re the most popular. But because they are the most. Movies are the most things to the most people, and they are all these things at once, together.
When you sit down in a theater and the lights go down, you may be there to discover a world you’ve never seen before. The woman to your right could be a budding filmmaker looking for inspiration; the man to your left seeking solace after a miserable week; the couple in front of you finding love in each other and on screen; the family behind you just getting out of the house for a night. But you’re there together.
It’s easy to get lost in our own emotions at the movies. Some day, theaters will reopen. Slowly, people will get their popcorn, drag their feet across the garish carpets, and plop down into their extra-wide, reclining chairs. I hope that whenever that day comes, we all remember how special the shared experience of going to the movies can be. We all may be looking for something different, but in our own ways, each of us just wants a little more magic in our lives. Thank goodness we have the movies.