When I thought about what kind of post I should write on Christmas, I considered making some joke about the fact that the first night of Hanukkah is today. You know — something like, "Hey Jews! Way to finally fall in line with the rest of us and worship the Jesus baby." That joke seems even stupider now than when I thought of it a few weeks ago. So I thought some more and decided that there's really nothing I can say about this holiday that wouldn't sound trite. It's Christmas, for God's sake. (Literally.) What can I possibly say that nobody else has?
After we all felt too full of Christmas dinner to talk or think, my family decided to go see "The Family Stone" at the theater. Typical Jews-on-Christmas activity, I know, but once all the presents are unwrapped and the leftovers are vacuum-sealed into tiny containers, there's honestly not that much for the Christians to do either. Television on Christmas is appalling and the build-up of this holiday always yields a quasi-coma once it's finally blown past.
So instead of anything holiday related, I'm just going to write about going to the movies. On a day that's supposed to be special, why shouldn't I dwell on one of my favorite activities in the world?
I had a roommate sophomore year whose father didn't believe that going to the movie theater was good, financially, socially or — I suspect — even morally. He told me that his father explained the whole deal as a scam. To paraphrase: "It just doesn't make any sense to spend the money on a ticket for everyone when you can eventually just rent the movie for a few bucks a short time later." Also: "Watching movies at your house is better because you don't have to pay for food and you don't have to deal with obnoxious people who talk the whole time." As this theory was expounded, I wondered at what point his father's words had squirmed into his ears and taken an unquestioning residence in his brain.
I just can't agree.
To me, going to the movies is an activity I regard with the same reverence some people hold religious services. Like church, the movie theater is a place I can go and put life on hold for however long the movie is. You sit in this dark room with strangers and hopefully one or two loved ones, yet you all get to enjoy this narrative that's presented before you. You don't have any distractions in front of you. (And I should note that the strangers I've shared a theater with have generally exhibited manners. Maybe I'm lucky.) Alternatively, watching a movie at home usually results in people walking through the viewing room, talking on the phone, loudly doing dishes. It's irritating but understandable — you watch a video at a house, where people are meant to live. The theater, conversely, is meant for movies only. It's this weird location that's entirely devoted to being quiet and doing nothing but concentrating on what a bunch of people somewhere decided was a story that you should see. And in that way, it's just so much more special.
The movie I watched today was good. Not great, but a very certain kind of good that I needed. (It's also so much deeper and subtle than the trailers made it seem, which is one of the best surprises I can get when I go to the movies.) But on that level, even the quality of a movie doesn't really matter. To steal an idea I liked in "The Dreamers," which I also saw recently and liked, it doesn't matter what kind of movie I watch. Any movie, any genre, good or bad — it's still going to the movies. I was telling my dad before the movie started about this, and though my dad likes the movies he can't quite agree with me. Maybe I'm special, but even if I sit through a bad movie, I still got to see a movie. And that's almost always better than not seeing one.
The only downside I see of going to the theater is the very end. Sometimes, I can sit in the theater and soak in what I just saw. Like on Thursday night, I saw "Syriana" with Caitlyn and we just talked about it while the credits scrolled into the ceiling. Today, however, my folks wanted to race to the parking lot as soon as the director's credits popped up. They even skipped out the side exit instead of going though the lobby. (The lobby lights and the bathroom lines and the smell of popcorn at least give me some closure if I'm leaving the theater in a hurry.) To be into this movie — this narrative, this little world I saw two hours of — and then to be ripped out is a traumatic little premature birth. Snap your fingers and that world's gone and you're you and people are stepping over you and where did you park the car, anyway? The effect, of course, only lasts for a few moments.
Outside, however, it has started raining. The thing outside the movie box had transformed from a brisk late evening to full-on night complete with rain. And I love that, too. I'm going to steal from another movie — like I don't do that enough already — and recall a line that went something like, "You see a movie, then you step outside and the whole world is different." And so often, I feel like that's true. Not in some schmaltzy way where the movie changes the viewer as a person or anything like that, but just in a literal way. It's two hours or so, and the weather and the time keeps moving on, even if you're not aware. I wish I could even remember what movie that line came from. It could very well be "Pennies From Heaven" with Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters, but I'm honestly not sure. ("Pennies From Heaven," by the way, is an underrated movie entirely worth your time, if you're interested.)
I'm driving back to Santa Barbara tomorrow afternoon, and I think I'll con someone into seeing a movie with me. It's not that I'm that unhappy with the world around me right now, but there's no harm in taking a two-hour break from it and seeing what will happen when it resumes.
Oh, and my only real complaint about "The Family Stone": the gay, deaf son with the black boyfriend is the most contrived, most give-me-sympathy, most put-together-despite-hardships character in recent memory. I hated him. Luckily, he wasn't in the movie much.