A movie theater is a place where strangers sit in the dark to laugh and cry together. It’s where people go to “take in a picture,” an en masse hallucination that shocks and delights and informs our lives.
We are the directors of our own lifelong 3D documentaries. They’re shot from a first-person perspective and narrated by a strangely familiar sadomasochist who wishes there were more sex scenes. When the documentary becomes too boring or stressful, we can make the world disappear for 90-ish minutes with a trip to the movies.
There’s no barrier of race or class to enjoying a good movie because a good movie connects with the jaw of human experience, resonating on a level that knows no demographic or god. You know the tropes – from “falling in love” to “death in the family” to “first day at a new job”, humans in the First World have a generally similar understanding of life elements like these. The language of existence is a shared one. We take vacations, we make plans, we try to ignore the inevitable heat death of the universe. A movie plays on this to unify a collection of perfect strangers so well that they will be still together in the same place and be of the same mind, living a shared reality that isn’t real at all: a matinee showing of Jason Statham’s Jet-Setting Murder Romp.
And a good movie is under no obligation to comfort us. It may just as well show us all kinds of ugliness by way of broken hearts and bones. This feels counterintuitive. If we’re looking for low-key escape, why invest in a fictional plot with high-stress stakes? Let’s ask a different question instead, one that still gets at the same spirit as the first: Would you rather agonize over your real-life tax bill or delightfully fret over whether two imaginary people are gonna bang or not?
The next time you pop into a theater, take a look around before the lights go down and that sizzle reel of Famous Faces Emoting kicks up with classical music. Every person in that theater is just another version of every other person. We should hope to be humans in the dark together more often, with no idea how it ends and no idea what happens after that.