Going to the Movies: An Argument In Favor

There are a lot of small, seemingly insignificant freedoms that go by the wayside after you have children. Little things once a regular occurrence or done without much thought at all become a distant memory until much later, sometimes years later, your memory is jogged and you'll stop and think, "Oh yeah, we did used to know where all the good brunch spots are." Or, "I can't believe all the hours I spent on a weekend afternoon mindlessly combing the used bins at random record stores." For me, one of the biggest things that I abruptly stopped doing post children was going to the movies. I still remember the last movie I saw in a theater just before my eldest son was born and the acknowledgment that it would likely be such. I didn't really understand (thanks in large part to our lengthy space between kids) how long it would be until I would become a regular movie goer again. That on the rare occasions we did go out how risky it would seem to go to a movie that may be awful or how, given a few hours to myself I would jump to the thought of heading out for lunch or dinner with a friend, maybe even taking on something so mundane and disinteresting as a day of errands, alone, with my favorite old episodes of This American Life blaring on my headphones. 

Only rarely would the thought of going to the movies cross my mind, typically when something interesting was coming out but it was a passing thought that I rarely ever acted on. It seemed like a hassle to coordinate and, to be honest, it seemed a little self-indulgent. How could I justify going to the movies in the middle of the day? And how the hell could I stay awake past 8pm, cozy in a dark theater? The longer I refrained from going, the more detached and clueless I became about the actors on the screen. The stories seemed largely unoriginal and the big business of movie-making seemed to overshadow any interest in artistry, whimsy or originality. 

As my sons have gotten older we've done our best to be judicious with screen time and short of the occasional IMAX, movies weren't high on the list of our go-to activities. I'm sure this decision is a combination of our commitment to limiting media, our fairly wide age ranges between kids and events of the last decade that have stolen away the security many of us felt in large public places. I hate the reality of that but I know it's not just me. I know I'm not the only one who has nixed the idea of music festivals and other big events for that mild, nagging fear of, "What if?" Who has gotten very adept at spotting EXIT signs when I go into a crowded place and who holds the hands of children in packed crowds just a bit tighter than I used to. 

Subconscious reasons aside, it took my oldest son pointing out how out of touch he felt with conversations among classmates to make me rethink the movies as a destination. My husband or I might make a reference to a classic movie scene that would bring on a blank stare from my son, 11 at the time and we'd be surprised that he'd never heard of it. Of course he hadn't!  I'd started a list a long time ago of movies I someday wanted to watch with him but hadn't thought much about current movies, the thing that, in full pre-tween throes, mattered most to him. And so, we stopped waiting for the next Star Wars installment to come out, stopped insisting that he read the book before he saw the movie in the theater (that one was a little tough, I won't lie) and we started going to the movies. Often. For his 12th birthday I even made him a coupon book of two tickets per month for a movie of his choice with a friend or brother. Interestingly, as delighted as he is with his new status as a frequent movie-goer, I feel like I have benefitted immensely, too. How had I forgotten what it felt like to debate between titles and dissect cast members? The thrill of choosing movie snacks (my purist formula: something sweet, something salty/crunchy) to be smuggled in with the help of my largest bag and coat pockets. It seemed insane to me that movies, specifically those in a theater, had once been such a large part of my life that I had friends who I really never saw outside of our standing movie dates. We didn't have much else in common but we found that we loved each others' taste in movies and made it a point to call each other when there was something new worth seeing. Independent films, foreign films, summer blockbusters, the occasional formulaic rom-com...we watched them all. 

This all came back to me on one of those first movie dates with my two oldest boys. As much as it felt indulgent and mildly guilt-inducing, it also felt like a welcome respite from the outside world; One of the last few places where we as a society are sternly told to put our phones down and sit, without multi-tasking or checking in on nothing, for two hours. These consistent movies dates with a varying line-up of our family members have become something I look forward to, especially on days when the stresses of adulthood have me ready for a forced break, a two hour vacation cocooned in a plush seat watching something I'll maybe love, maybe hate but be happy to talk over on the ride home. And so, if you're a lame ass grown woman like me who once took on a Puritanical vow to only have fun once the laundry was done and the floors were clean, I say leave them. In the ultimate spoiler alert, the laundry will never be done and the floors will likely always have a mysterious layer of fine grit and a few spots sticky from a blend of jam and some other unidentifiable substance. But summer is coming and there is a movie theater calling your name - cool, dark and showing a movie whose plot will likely seem vaguely familiar but that's not the point. 

Grauman's Chinese Theater photo credit: Carol M. Highsmith
1950's Drive-In: unknown
Somerville Theater: Stefanie Klavens