My March 2020 began at midnight on the steps of a movie theater. My friends and I had just gone to see Parasite. The five of us sat huddled side-by-side with enormous bags of popcorn and candy, enthralled by every twist and turn the movie had to offer. We even chuckled when one of our friends pulled out a disinfectant wipe to clean her theater seat.
After the movie ended, we talked about it endlessly over Nutella s’mores ice cream at the shop below the theater; I even snapped a picture for my food Instagram. It was a night filled with tremendous joy and laughter. Little did I know, this would be the last time I stepped foot into a movie theater.
I never really thought I would feel nostalgia for the movie theater, considering that it is not always the classiest of places. But over the past months, I have come to realize that going to the movies has always been a constant in my life, a time to bond with family and friends regardless of the movie playing on the screen. As a little kid, I always enjoyed going to the movie theater with my parents or grandparents. I knew that no matter what, I was safe. In a big, dark, crowded theater, I always had a hand to clutch if a movie got too scary or someone to whisper to if the plot became too convoluted.
As I entered middle school, I started going to the movies with my friends, which made me feel a glorified sense of independence. We would spend weeks looking forward to the release dates of The Hunger Games or Divergent, and we would make sure to get front row seats at the first available time. My love of going to the movies with friends continued through high school, when our taste in movies became a lot less cringey. As teenagers with driver’s licenses, the beauty was that we could be spontaneous; at some points, we went directly from school to the movies, and we even had the flexibility to stay for double features.
In high school, I started garnering a deeper appreciation for international films; when I spent a summer studying in France, I sat at the edge of my seat in the movie theater with the friends on my program, cluelessly trying to follow along to the intense French murder-mystery drama we were watching. I look back and laugh as I reflect on this time, remembering the chaos going through my brain as I tried to comprehend the actors’ fast-paced French with no subtitles. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this tumultuous movie experience would make me a confident learner and a more active listener.
Further, I reflect on all of the fond memories that I have had at the movies with my family in Brazil. As a little kid, I would come back to the U.S. and brag to all my friends about having seen the latest movies in Rio de Janeiro, since movies were often released a month earlier in Brazil than they were here. Growing up, I would be so excited every time that my uncle, cousins or grandparents took me to the Kinoplex at the Rio Sul Shopping Center; it was always an adventure.
From seeing The Smurfs dubbed in Portuguese with my grandma as a little kid, to more recently reserving an entire row of reclining chairs for my family in the fancy theater, going to the movies has always provided me with a familiar feeling of coziness and comfort. It’s somewhere tranquil where I can relax and merely enjoy the presence of loved ones.
It’s bizarre how something so casual, like going to the movies, has impacted me so deeply. Yes, during the pandemic, I have still been able to find creative ways to watch movies with friends. Whether it’s through Netflix Party, Zoom or even using projectors in our backyards while being socially distant, my friends and I have established new ways of enjoying “the movies.” Nevertheless, I wish that I had further appreciated the movie theater experience rather than taking it for granted.
Going to the movies is not about the movie itself. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but going to the movies is about how that movie makes you feel. It’s about the conversations you’ll have with the people you go with and the overall mindset it will place you in.
Movies set the tone for our future experiences. They allow us to expand our emotional connections, and the best ones have us thinking about them afterward for hours on end. With this in mind, I am satisfied that Parasite was the last movie I saw in theaters. I look back at the vivid memory, savor that time spent with friends and keep it close to my heart.
In contrast to last March, this March began with me sitting in my dorm room and staring at “one year ago today” memories, reminiscing about how life used to be and how we could be happy and carefree in public spaces like that movie theater and ice cream shop. I may not be able to go to the movie theater this March, but I can still set a new tone for myself this month, one filled with gratitude, appreciation and hopefulness.
To my future self: Cherish time spent with family and friends, whether it be on Zoom, in-person or even one day, in a dark movie theater once again. You never know how these memories will shape your perspective later on in life.
Gabriel Lesser is a freshman from Westchester, N.Y. studying Neuroscience and Romance Languages. His column explores his memories along with his current reflections and the lessons that he has learned.