In 2012, I saw a film called The Master. The film was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and starred Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and, as you can imagine, I had very high expectations going into the theater. The entire film was so beautiful, so moving, that when the ending credits rolled, a point in time where most people get up and leave, I, along with many of the others in the theater, stayed. As the credits rolled by, I didn’t even think of reading them. I sat in awe of what I had just seen, and tears welled up in my eyes. I couldn’t bring myself to break the silence in the theater. Every seat in the house had been taken, and, with only a few exceptions, nobody made a sound. We all sat there, absorbing the beautiful experience we had all shared. Once the credits had wrapped up, we all slowly stood up and filed out of the theater. Upon leaving the sacred ground, we all went our separate ways, lauding the film to our friends. Though I never knew who any of my fellow moviegoers were, and I could not for the life of me remember any of their faces, I was able to share in the magic of the cinema with complete strangers, and connect on a level, which I never thought possible.
The movie theater is a wonderful thing. Movies are lauded for transporting us to other worlds, but the films are only the roads. Theaters are the vehicles in which we travel. We all have movie theater memories, whether it is a good time with friends, quality time as a family, or a solo outing. These theaters are where our fathers took us to spend quality time, where our partners took us on a romantic rendezvous, where our classmates or co-workers all got together to let off some steam.
Sadly, more and more people are not making time to go out to the theater. Sites such as Netflix and Amazon are making digital versions of movies available instantaneously. If you can spend a few dollars for a movie in the comfort of your home, why should you spend $9-$12 for a film plus transportation and possibly concession costs at the theater? There is a temptation to say that there will be no difference in quality if you see a movie on your computer versus the big screen. This could not be further from the truth. With the giant screen, minimal lighting, loud sounds, and high quality picture, the theater grabs you and forces you to focus on the film. Modern life has so many distractions that sometimes we forget how powerful a moment can be if you sit down and just focus on it. The theater removes the distractions of everyday life to allow you to slow down and appreciate the film. If everyone had been texting or jumping on the internet while watching “The Godfather,” would we really be paying attention when the Don made an offer that couldn’t be refused? Audiences worldwide were blown away by the gorgeous and epic world of James Cameron’s “Avatar.” Would such awe and wonder be present if the film had been viewed on a small screen with the picture and sound quality varying with the strength of the internet connection? I think not.
Streaming sites can ruin the social aspect of watching a movie. Sure, you can invite a few friends over, share some microwave popcorn, and stream a fun movie. I have had a blast doing just this on occasion, and while it is a fun experience, it is not likely one that you will have. The smaller screen means you will miss some of what happened and chances are you won’t be too focused on the movie. A theater is a proper social engagement, where friends can meet up and buy (admittedly overpriced) sodas and nachos and just enjoy a movie. Spending time together and sharing a good movie or riffing on a bad one is an essential part of the theater experience. The theater can also benefit families, as it gives the whole family something that they can all go to without too much pre-planning.. If everyone just goes to their corner of the house and streams their favorite movies, without once talking to each other, they are distancing themselves from each other. No sharing a big bucket of popcorn, no discussing the movie on the drive home, none of that. Time spent at a theater is quality time, and quality time is important to a healthy family life.
Though I could literally fill an entire issue of The Lafayette with arguments about why you should go to a theater instead of streaming a movie, ultimately the best argument I can make is this: recall your movie theater memories. Remember the time you spent with people, the worlds you were transported to. Feel the popcorn in your mouth, your buttery fingers scraping the bottom of the bag before the previews have even finished. Remember that feeling of sharing a magical experience with the ones you love, as well as the moments you shared with complete strangers that connected you to them. There is no experience like seeing a movie in a proper theater, and it is an experience to be shared.
Next time you’re stumped for something to do on a Saturday night, take the LCAT to Regal Northampton with your friends and settle in for a movie night. You might not like the movie, but you’ll never regret the time you shared. Your best movie theater memories have yet to happen.