I Miss Going to the Movies
COMMENTARY

December 30, 2020 by John Kass

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need,” said Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Old Marcus could have been talking about coping with these pandemic lockdowns, but he wasn’t.

Happily, I have a home library, but no garden. And I can’t possibly go another spring without planting. That would kill me.

But there’s another thing many of us don’t have in the lockdown — you, me, anyone who can’t risk catching the damn virus.

It’s going on a movie date.

I don’t mean sitting at home streaming movies on a video screen.

I mean movie popcorn. That gathering of strangers in the dark. And that magic on the screen.

But we live now in the Epoch of Scolds. Woke scolds and COVID scolds.

Just mention yearning to venture forth from the cave, and some will clutch at their pearls:

What? He dares write about missing the movies? When human lives are in the balance?

Yeah. I dare. Lighten up, Francis. You too, Karen, don’t you have some neurotic rescued pit bull that needs a walk? Go away.

Going to the movies isn’t about sitting on the couch, texting on your phone, hitting the pause button to use the washroom and to grab a snack. And all that talk about how streaming at home is really so much better than going out to the show?

It’s not better.

I miss taking Betty out to the movies on a date in the dark. And afterward, maybe some pie and coffee, or a drink, to talk over what we’ve just seen.

Watching at home isn’t going out on a date. It’s home. Work might claim you.

But at the movies, you can sit in the back row and make out like teenagers. Or you can sit closer — as long as you’re center to the screen — hold hands and keep your tongues in your own mouths just like well-mannered old people.

If you’ve seen an especially fine film, you might get that empty feeling inside you as you walk to the car, processing it all. I miss that too.

Once I wanted to make movies, and attended film school in Chicago.

The department chairman, Tony Loeb, and instructor Chap Freeman, who taught screenwriting, were both superb teachers.

One afternoon they told us about how the magic works in a movie theater. They said it was all about gathering in the dark. The anonymous crowd of strangers, communicating wordlessly with each other in silence, in some great movie cathedral.

They weren’t holy men, but it sounded like religion. They knew the power of the anonymous dark. And that thin, drained feeling you might get when you leave, if you’re lucky.

Have you ever felt a hollowness inside you after watching a great film? Stunned by the power you’ve witnessed, that feeling you’ve shared wordlessly with others you don’t know and may never see again?

It’s happened to me after art-house movies, such as “La Strada” and the other sad, Italian one about the old man who’s losing his apartment and doesn’t want to give up his dog. “Umberto D.” it was called.

It happened to me after “Hell or High Water,” with Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges and the great Ben Foster. After, I needed some time alone, to have a smoke and enjoy the emptiness.

Years ago, Betty and I had a terrible argument downtown after seeing “Sophie’s Choice” — a thoroughly great but depressing movie about the Holocaust and a choice no mother should ever have to make.

We had our spat in the vestibule of a bad Italian restaurant.

What was it about? We can’t remember. All we remember is that the film got to us.

When our sons were little, we took them to see one of the Narnia movies from the novels of the great Christian moralist, C.S. Lewis.

It was “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

A snowstorm was blowing. The theater was almost empty.

And when Aslan the Lion gave himself up to be sacrificed on the altar of evil, I watched their faces watching the screen.

They didn’t know about allegories. They didn’t know who the lion represented. They didn’t know that Aslan would be resurrected and conquer death.

All they knew was horror, as he died on that altar with the laughing demons around him. They were crying.

But tears are part of life. And fear. That was OK, too, because I’d read the book and knew it would turn out just fine, for Aslan and my sons.

After the movie was over, as we lingered a bit in the parking lot, another family with kids was lingering too.

Their mom was a minister, a pastor from a South Side Black church who drove all the way out to the west suburbs so her children could see the film.

She loved it too, loved Aslan. As she began to tell her children and ours who the Lion represented, she gave me a questioning look as if asking whether she should proceed.

I nodded and smiled. She smiled back, a beautiful warm smile of goodness coming from her.

Our family won’t ever forget her.

The snow was falling in the night. Big soft flakes fell on her black hair, her scarf, her hands, as she spoke softly about Aslan.

If we’d watched at home, we never would have met her.

There’s nothing like going out to the movies. You might even see something truly special.

©2020 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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