Journey to the Center of the Mind –– the Magic of the Theater
Disney Pixar’s movie “Luca,” the tale of a young sea monster who visits an Italian town with his new friend in search of a new life, fires on all cylinders. It is a modern fairy tale with as much heart and insight into the human condition as any Pixar movie, and deserves a spot in the upper echelons of Pixar’s classics.
However, there was one major flaw with “Luca” that had nothing to do with the movie itself: I watched it alone, in my bed, on my laptop.
The streaming service model of releasing new movies simultaneously in cinemas and on streaming platforms is problematic in my eyes for two primary reasons. First, the viewer isn’t primed to appreciate the movie the way movies were meant to be enjoyed: in a dark theater, on a big screen, as part of a collective experience. Second, the movie does not receive the amount of attention and acclaim that it deserves. The conversation about the movie is resigned to the home; coworkers, friends and theatergoers don’t speak about the movie as much because it isn’t an experience they shared with other people. It is a personal experience. In a recent interview, Patty Jenkins, the director of the Wonder Woman films, said about the streaming service model: “All of the films that streaming services are putting out, I’m sorry, they look like fake movies to me. I don’t hear about them, I don't read about them. It’s not working as a model for establishing legendary greatness.”
For this reason, I don’t think “Luca” was given the recognition it deserved, and fear that it will be forgotten in a few short years. Disney, an organization founded on revealing “magic” in the world, really missed the mark on this one. It devalued its slate of releases this past year by including them in straight-to-home releases. The “magic” of the movies that Disney claims to promote was gone.
I know it’s been a long time, but as any fan of the movies knows, a trip to the theater can be an otherworldly experience. You arrive at the theater, wait in line at the marquees to buy a ticket and anticipate and discuss what you’re about to see. The air inside the waiting area is electric, bubbling with the excitement of fans and cinephiles who have been anticipating the movie for months. This effect is intensified by the people coming out of the theater who have witnessed something incredible, something only possible in the world that movies and theatres create.
You walk into the theater in a procession of people who are bolstering your excitement, take your designated seat, smell the popcorn scent wafting through the air, and, as the lights go down and the trailers begin, you know you are entering an alternate universe for the next hour or two. This is when the magic of the movies begins.
The theater is a place of connection, a place of shared experience with like-minded enthusiasts that’s capable of transporting its audience to a galaxy far far away. But it is also a place that feels unusually close to home, a place that unveils the extraordinary within the ordinary. The movies are the medium through which we believe in the supernatural, the mystical and the magical. The director is the wizard and the artist, crafting a magisterial tapestry that captivates our eyes and hearts for two hours.
We know this isn’t just a screening or an escape from responsibilities. There’s some indescribable quality and characteristic of the movies that allures even the most rational and the most intellectual of minds.
Movies speak the unspoken thoughts of man and answer the questions prefaced with “what if.” They are the sandbox of artists and visionaries who, thankfully, allow us to partake in their crazy fantasies. We see reality through the eyes of the creative and we are better off because of it.
We become better dreamers, better thinkers, better doers. We can be motivated to change the world, stand up for the little guy and try something we’d never otherwise fathom.
More simply, the movies teleport us back to our childhood. For those who have unfortunately lost the childhood sense to see the world not as it is but what it could be, the movies grant that passion and that absolute gift back to us. We believe in a greater good, in an underdog, in a hero. Movies thrill us. They excite us. They make us feel love, pain, heartbreak and excitement.
Movies are a combination of all other art forms: the amalgam of millions of frames as deliberate as Renaissance frescoes, bouts of music as beautiful, complex and revolutionary as the great classical symphonies and choreographed dances between camera and actors as meticulous as romantic ballets. Movies engage us. Movies transfix us with their splendor, and for those two hours, if you let them, you dive into their world and come out a changed person.
After around two hours, the credits roll and you remember you’re still just in a theater. You sit in your seat for a few minutes so you can digest and process the trance you’ve just entered. Then you turn to your friends to gauge their reactions. You can see in their facial expression whether the movie impacted them just as much as it impacted you. You end the experience by standing up, stretching your legs, adjusting your eyes back to the world outside of the screen, and eventually, you venture home. Even though you’ve left the theater, the movie comes home with you.
I haven’t even really comprehended the lack of theater-going experience wholeheartedly, but I think life is not complete without it. Without it, how would we peer behind the magician’s curtain and wholly understand why we think the way we do or act the way we act? I think the best way to truly understand our basic emotions and characteristics is by looking at them in the extreme, through the trying situations movies manifest. Humanity has always understood the world and conveyed important messages through stories, and cinema, although it is the latecomer to the party, is perhaps the most complex and possibility-ridden iteration of storytelling. To reduce all movies to just passive entertainment is myopic at best.
I see the light at the end of this tunnel. Already, many movie studios are returning to movie theater-exclusive releases. Although it may be fundamentally from a financial motivation, I like to see it as a pure-hearted return to the theaters for the sake of film. The floodgates have opened and all the movies that were corked up due to the pandemic are now rushing into the theaters. Hopefully, the crowds will run back as well, and I don’t think it's naively optimistic to believe that with the incredible slate of movies being released in the coming months, they will. Call me a dreamer, but the magic of the cinema will soon be back.
Photo Caption: A cinema at night
Photo Credit: Unsplash