Why We Watch Movies

The first time I remember going to the movies was in 1999, I was six years old, turning seven, that year. It was the first outing that I was privy to that didn’t involve a kid’s menus, a colouring mat, or a playground. This was something adults got to do. This was something magical.

The first time I walked through the doors of a theatre I was swept away by the grandness of the whole place. You walk in and past the wall of coming attractions and you can feel the power of movie marketing taking a hold off you. They always place the concession stand after the box office, mainly so the smell entices you to buy something. Then you have the hallways leading you off to all the different screenings taking place that day.

My dad handed me my ticket so I could hand it to the usher. “Is this your first movie?” he asked, I enthusiastically nodded yes. “Well enjoy the show,” he added as he returned part of my ticket and pointed out the way to the movie I was about to see. The movie in question was The Mummy.

When we entered the theatre I was transfixed by the largest screen I had ever seen. My dad led me up the stairs, which were lit up by tiny red lights, like an airport runway, guiding us to our seats. We sat at the back of the theatre, I got light-headed and overwhelmed by the whole thing, I threw up into my popcorn (I would go on to throw up at the movies once more; before seeing The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, on a screen that would later be converted for IMAX screenings).

As the lights dimmed, a hush fell over the crowd and the projector came to life. Back then there was no Cineplex or AMC pre-shows, playing when you walked in. To my surprise, the movie didn’t just start, there were trailers beforehand. I don’t remember any of the movies that were plugged that day but I do remember the movie that came after.

And what was playing out in front of me was amazing. The Mummy isn’t high art or anything but it introduced me to a blockbuster spectacle that went beyond Disney’s animation or Sunday morning cartoons. It was a preposterous adventure movie, the likes I had never seen before. And Brendan Fraser in The Mummy was my Indiana Jones. Later, I would love The Mummy for the genre trash it is but at that moment, when the movie ended, it was a masterpiece to me.

Brendan Frasier was the man and was in everything at the time but more importantly Rachel Weisz was my first celebrity crush and quite honestly she still is. For me Evie (Rachel Weisz) was the real highlight of the film and the first time I was introduced to a strong female character in film. Sure she had to be rescued in the end by Fraser’s character but in the beginning she rescued him; she was always the smartest person in the room and she could handle herself as well as most people who were plunged into a situation that was completely new to them. This was probably the first time I started taking notes about feminism in cinema.

I think the above sequence captures the reason The Mummy is such a fun movie. A race in the middle of the desert to add some levity to counterbalance the fact that a bunch of those characters will be dead. Also, Evie winning!

The Mummy was just the start of something that evening. I began to consume every movie I could get my hands on starting with my parents’ VHS. I watched Home Alone, Jurassic Park, Batman, Superman, Superman II, and thanks to my uncle, Star Wars and Back to the Future. Fun Fact: my uncle was the first person to introduce me to horror flicks by showing me Child’s Play, granted many were the edited versions that TV stations usually run. Obviously, I did see the unedited versions when I got older. However, those films triggered multiple re-watches after school and on weekends and I savoured every minute of every movie I watched and still do.

Then my parents got me a library and that was it. I had the ability to checkout any PG-13 movie of my choosing and that is exactly what I did. If I wasn’t reading comic books, I was checking out movies. I had hundreds of titles at my disposal. Watching movie after movie sparked something much more substantial within me; a passion. And as years passed, I started to understand the value of cinema as something more than entertainment.

Movies allow us to have experiences we will presumably never have. A city boy like myself would never do what Emile Hirsch’s character did in Into the Wild and go out into the wilderness to have an adventure but I get to have that experience every time I watch the movie. We get a peak into another world, another lifestyle, another culture that isn’t our own. We are allowed to experience something new and unseen. Take a look at some of the stories that we have told this year alone, an apocalyptic blockbuster in a world run by talking apes, an attractive alien who is hunting men, an ancient predator rising from the ocean to save us, the story about the history of a grand hotel and a sex-opus about a nymphomaniac who’s real problem is her loneliness and not her addiction. Not the stuff of the day to day lives of the ordinary movie going public, yet these movies serve as a way to introduce viewpoints and worlds to millions of people around the globe.

Sure movies can be seen as escapism, but experiencing these stories as a way to escape from your life can reveal new interpretations of life itself. The pain of the death of a loved one, the ecstasy of your first kiss, the terror of finding out what lurks in the dark, and the recognition of yourself in a character onscreen; something me and my friend Emerald do a lot off. Those stories may not be real but the reaction they elicit are.

A reaction you may have had when you were younger may not hold up as you get older. Films evolve as we get older and gather new thoughts and beliefs. I’m sure that as I get older my understanding of numerous film will change.

In his review of La Dolce Vita Roger Ebert wrote about our constantly evolving relationship with film.

“Movies do not change, but their viewers do. When I saw “La Dolce Vita” in 1960, I was an adolescent for whom “the sweet life” represented everything I dreamed of: sin, exotic European glamour, the weary romance of the cynical newspaperman. When I saw it again, around 1970, I was living in a version of Marcello’s world; Chicago’s North Avenue was not the Via Veneto, but at 3 a.m. the denizens were just as colorful, and I was about Marcello’s age.

When I saw the movie around 1980, Marcello was the same age, but I was 10 years older, had stopped drinking, and saw him not as a role model but as a victim, condemned to an endless search for happiness that could never be found, not that way. By 1991, when I analyzed the film a frame at a time at the University of Colorado, Marcello seemed younger still, and while I had once admired and then criticized him, now I pitied and loved him. And when I saw the movie right after Mastroianni died, I thought that Fellini and Marcello had taken a moment of discovery and made it immortal. There may be no such thing as the sweet life. But it is necessary to find that out for yourself.”

Some of my favourite moments happened at the movies. Recently I saw Gareth Edward’s Godzilla with Emerald and it was incredible moment of awe-inspiring spectacle that was made better by the enthusiasm and love that she had towards the movie. She was high off the movie and I was high off her reaction. Or the time we saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier and her constant arm squeezing every time Sebastian Stan appeared on screen as Bucky Barnes. I also tend to remember the conversations we had the day we saw those flicks and what we did. For example, when we saw The Winter Soldier we ate sushi and were at the ROM before. Basically, I have at last found my favourite movie buddy, someone who can match the level of enthusiasm I have!

And she’s not the only one. My friend Nelson and I have made Friday night, date night (with each other), where we get something to eat and then we see a movie. This week it’s sushi followed by Guardians of the Galaxy in IMAX.

I remember the bad movies, I remember the great ones, but most of all I remember the experience. And that can never be replaced. Movies were my first love and always will be.

Theatres may come and go, home theatre set-ups will eventually change but movies will never leave and we will never leave them. Every year people proclaim that this year is the death of cinema but that’s not true. As long as the passion remains, cinema will always live. It’s given us some of our greatest works of art and that is not something that is easily replaceable. The venue may change but the movies themselves will not. Cinema is the most resilient art-form and that fact will continue to make sure cinema never dies.

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