Media Moment: The Woman Who Cried Wolf and Getting Back To The Movie Theater
The Oscars were different this year – in nearly all the ways. Diversity, DJ Quest Love, less pomp and circumstance, and of course, masks, some social distancing, and simulcast attendance of those nominees outside of the US. But the difference that resonated with me the most was the blatant promotion of theatergoing.
Getting back into theaters was a theme of the 2021 Academy Awards – from offhand remarks and acceptance speech mentions to “go” to the movies, to the commercial breaks, where ads for the latest movies prominently mentioned their theatrical release dates. With every nod to the theatergoing experience, my heart felt a little more hopeful.
Like many, I have seen beloved local theaters and prominent chains shutter during the pandemic. I’ve read article after article about how the theatergoing experience is dying out, citing everything from the boom of streaming services to generational disinterest in the experience. I’ve also heard the pleas of moviegoing fanatics, film critics, artists, and theater owners to “save the experience” of going to the theater. My personal favorite was a story of a 91 year old woman who wrote a love letter to her local movie theater as the pandemic kept her from attending. Admittedly, it made me cry.
My own experience left me wondering why I care so much about getting back to sticky cinema floors, snacks that lack quality-control, and patrons who will often detract from the experience by checking their phones. My own situation, by comparison, is a million times better. During the pandemic, my husband brought the movies to us – everything from streaming services to a beautiful (BIG) high-def TV and a stunning sound system. The snacks and beverages we get to enjoy are exactly to my liking; the only ambient light is from the candle I light; and our golden retriever is allowed to snuggle up under the blankets with us. The cost is also a lot less than a night out at the theater, so what is it exactly that I miss?
Much has been written about the communal experience of theatergoing – hearing others laugh, gasp, scream, and cry along with or beside you adds meaning to what you’re experiencing. And while I completely agree, I think that’s only part of the story for someone like me, who used to go to the midnight showings of indie films and revel in the solitude and luxury of having the whole theater to myself.
So on further introspection, for me, part of what I miss is the intentional immersion going to the theater offers. It was a date night with myself, my friends, my family, my husband. It was pre-planned, not an after-dinner default activity. Beyond the actual film, the theater’s ambience was intentional too. While our living room set-up is great, the sole-purpose of the room is not for movie-watching. The theater, by contrast, is optimized in its design. The lighting is intentionally darker; the acoustics are better; and the seating angled towards the screen. The experience is also out of my control; the smells are theater smells (not my curated candle collection); and I can’t pause to grab my dog’s toy from under the couch or throw on subtitles when I find the dialogue a little unclear. Going to the theater is an experience that required focused effort and intentionality, and for me, it was often blissfully all-consuming – something I didn’t realize until it was no longer an option.
As we slowly emerge from social distancing measures and other pandemic precautions, most of us are thinking about the lessons we’ve learned – what we want to take with us, leave behind, avoid, and get back to. While moviegoing may not be your first thought when you hear the popular wellness phrase, living with intention, I started to understand those words better by using theatergoing as a touchstone. While moviegoing may continue to decline, I hope that intentionally choosing our activities – and fully immersing ourselves in the moments we get to do them – will be one of those lessons we keep in the forefront of our minds as we all move forward.
– Kristelle Lavallee Collins, MA, Senior Content Strategist at the Digital Wellness Lab
– Edited by Brian Keller