Now is Not The Time for Movie Theaters

Last week I had a really bad day. You know when all of your insecurities and worries pile up after seeing how the government is taking away your civil rights in the cruelest way possible, and you feel helpless and tired? It was one of those days. It left me exhausted more than usual, like I had no other ideas on how to feel better. Even explaining my problems away after almost 3 years in therapy didn’t help. It was a day where I didn’t want to problem solve, I just wanted to disassociate. I used to have a pretty efficient way of picking myself up when I’m down. It was in a time like this when I would go see a movie.

I would love nothing more than to find something I hadn’t seen yet on my AMC A-List app, pick a time, either in the middle of the day, or late at night, my favorite times to watch a movie. I’d drive to the 7-Eleven down the road to grab a drink or a snack to stick in my purse. Then I’d make my way down Magnolia Boulevard, which lead me directly to the AMC in Burbank in 10 minutes, maybe 15. I’d sit in my car and take a couple hits from a weed vape (I live in California!). Then I’d sit in a dark room for 2 hours and be immersed in someone else’s problems. Going to the movies wasn’t just a hobby, they weren’t only my secondary education to the art form I loved most. Going to the movies like I do was a lifestyle.

Most people’s lives have been upended by the current COVID-19 pandemic; many of which had much more dire consequences than how many movies I get to watch. It’s why so many people are now trying to find some of the old normal as summer kicks off. A person can only be cooped up inside for so long before they lose their patience. We’re also still in the middle of massive demonstrations against police brutality and the corrupted systems that have terrorized black communities (and should not be forgotten). So the last thing we need to worry about right now is movie theaters, but they’re trying to open regardless (probably because they don’t think they have a choice). But before we go there, I want to give you some background on my relationship with movie theaters.

2013 was the first year I got MoviePass. You may remember they had the infamous “30 movies a month for 10 dollars” bargain, and a year later, the whole system went bankrupt and it became a laughing stock. No one understood how they were going to make a profit. Well, MoviePass had been around way longer than that. I purchased one when it cost 30 dollars a month, a number most would scoff at. But as a young adult with no other hobbies or dating prospects, MoviePass was worth it to me. I would average 9-10 movies on a good month, 6-7 on a bad one. As a young film buff who wanted to see everything, I saw EVERYTHING. From 2013-2017 I saw nearly every wide release film in theaters. I wanted to see the very best and the very worst. I was telling myself that this is how I improved my skills as a filmmaker and defined my taste as a cinephile.

Early on I had friends who bought a MoviePass along with me and I’d have a viewing buddy. But life was happening, and when others didn’t have time to watch every movie under the sun, I got more comfortable going alone. Going to the movies alone still reads as taboo for most of the general population. People get embarrassed and equate it to going by yourself to a restaurant or most activities often done with a partner. But even as someone with plenty of friends, I always found myself with a lot of alone time. Because I knew alone time usually meant time with sad thoughts, I’d just go to a movie instead. Plenty of times I saw movies that no one else had any interest in. This normalized going alone, which I now consider my favorite way to watch a movie (more on that later)

Eventually, I was seeing so many movies, my watching habits took control of my life. Trips to the theater became a numbers game, I watched many movies I didn’t actually want to see, just trying to meet an imaginary quota I set for myself. Always trying to get my final total higher the following year. This is what happens when you aren’t happy with yourself: you try and find something, anything, that will make you feel like you matter. If you put a lot of time into one thing, maybe you’ll feel some kind of self-worth. In 2017, I graduated college and spent well over half of the year unemployed, it was also a time where I knew I was trans and was still deep in the closet, which kept me stunted. I went to movie theaters 156 times that year, averaging 3 visits a week. I never understood why my Mom rolled her eyes when I’d leave the house past ten-o’clock to see another movie. It’s only now I see why she wasn’t completely in love with my hobby.

As much as I do feel like my habits weren’t healthy, they weren’t too hard to fix as I grew as an adult human being. I started transitioning, working a real job in television, and I slowly but surely began taking better care of myself. I started focusing on movies I actually wanted to see. I saw things that were challenging, and unique. As much as I had already loved watching those movies, they officially got priority over studio movies that were already getting more eyes from people. I was finally starting to truly watch movies for myself.

And after transitioning, watching movies as a woman became an entirely new experience. I was a person who bottled up most of my emotions. Estrogen un-bottled them and it was like I was seeing through a new pair of eyes. I would be sitting up front and in my own row, bawling my eyes out; it felt like another form of therapy. It made me fall in love with movies all over again. My obsession finally had real passion behind it and a new confidence. With all of that that, plus being a woman, my tastes evolved beyond certain ideals I had always had. (The Dark Knight Rises is terrible. It’s a boring republican-ass movie that resents its own existence, and Tom Hardy’s endlessly entertaining Bane Voice is it’s only redeeming quality.)

Now we’re in 2020, and movies have been closed for 3 months. I was still able to get 21 movies in the almost 2 and a half months of normalcy. Knowing theaters would be closed soon, I chose First Cow, an A24 indie film about 1820 settlers trying to find independence and freedom, as my last movie in theaters. I saw it 2 days before lockdown was put in place and bought a large popcorn, knowing this would be my last visit for a while. It was bittersweet, getting to watch a great movie but knowing I’ll miss so many other I had been dying to see. I’ve enjoyed getting to watch new movies put out by studios digitally, and I’ve had plenty of time to watch TV shows that I’ve been meaning to catch up on for a while. But without the theater, it just isn’t the same. But as hard as it is to admit, movie theaters will probably need to be closed for a while longer.

Next month, Hollywood is trying to line up some movies for the reopening of theaters. The current big ticket is Tenet, hoped to be the one that saves theaters, with director Christopher Nolan being a vocal supporter of the theatrical experience. Tenet looks like an absolute delight for anyone who loves seeing movies on the biggest screens possible. And if any director can sell a movie on the experience you get out of it in a theater, Nolan is your guy. Warner Bros. has been hesitant, unsure if the general public is ready to see movies again, but the word is that Christopher Nolan is pushing hard for July. The pandemic has been a serious threat to movie theaters, seeing as many aren’t sure if they’ll be around when the dust finally settles. And as much as I would kill to see Tenet and pretend everything is normal, opening movie theaters right now doesn’t fix the fact that we aren’t close to the end of this disaster.

Movie theaters have thrown around the possibility of opening at 25-50% capacity. There’s been talk of taking out seats so that social distancing can still be practiced. People will still be encouraged to wear masks at the theater, but not enforced, because we live in a very stupid country. I’m someone who loves going to a movie where there are few people present and I can have a row all to myself. But even with seats left in a checkerboard pattern, I won’t feel safe. I’ll feel isolated and dumb risking my health to go see a damn movie.

It’s clear that the country is not ready to get back to normal. As much as people want to take the attitude of “we need to restart the economy, some people just have to die.” As much as I want to go back to watching new movies in theaters. The risks of putting people back to work in that environment just isn’t worth it. I’m going to be frank: if theaters opened up next month and Tenet actually gets released, it will be hard for me not to go see it. I’d take all the precautions, and wear my mask. Whatever will get my butt in a to watch Christopher Nolan purchase a real 747 jet and crash it into a building. I don’t trust my impulses. But just because I know what I want to do, doesn’t mean it’s right or worth the safety of those who will be working in said theaters. Wonder Woman 1984 is another movie I’ve been really looking forward to seeing. After it became apparent it wouldn’t be safe to release the movie by August, I literally had a breakdown because I knew that meant I would be stuck in my apartment for way longer than I was mentally prepared for.

The world we knew before March is gone forever, the fundamentals and structure we’ve lived in are currently changing in bigger ways than any concept Christopher Nolan can shove in a 3-hour movie. It really sucks that as much as we all wanted this to be over before summer started, that’s just not the global virus we’re dealing with. So yes, even though AMC is confident that they can start opening their theaters on July 15th, one thing is for sure: this is a bad idea. I don’t think this pandemic will be the end of movie theaters; as much as they are struggling, there is a demand. But we need to be patient. So, if that means paying 20 dollars to watch that Pete Davidson movie in my living room, then at least I don’t need to put on pants.

Claire Bamert
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