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“Why do you go to the movies so much, Tom?” asks Amanda in Tennessee Williams’ classic play, The Glass Menagerie. “I go to the movies because – I like adventure,” Tom replies. “Adventure is something I don’t have much of at work, so I go to the movies.”
Like Tom, we’ve all found adventure at the movies, adventure of all sorts. Swashbuckling adventures in centuries long passed. Terrifying adventures in the depths of space. Adventures that have been shaken not stirred. Adventures of the heart and the heartbroken.
To paraphrase an old pop song, we’ve gone to the movies to find friends, to hold hands with the heroes, to fall in love with the heroines.
But Williams wrote The Glass Menagerie in 1944. In the three-quarters of a century since then modern life has become dominated by television.
The idiot box standing in the corner of the lounge room, along with its sibling mounted on the wall of the bedroom and its portable cousins accompanying us to the gym and on the train, have brought adventure into our homes and our daily commutes.
Who needs the romance of the movies when Jennifer Ehle falls in love with Colin Firth over the course of six consecutive Sunday evenings? Who needs the escape of the movies when a battered old police box whisks us away to every corner of time and space? And who needs the spectacle of the movies when armies and dragons compete for an iron throne?
And yet, we go. We go to the movies, and keep going. Why? We could stay at home where our televisions are cinematic in size and our blurays and speakers dazzle us with life-like images and surround us with almost disorienting sound. Adventures broadcast and streamed. Adventures live. Adventures on demand …And yet we go. We go to the movies.
At the movies we’re in the dark – the proper dark. No lamp in the corner, no light seeping through a crack in the drawn curtains, no glow from the display on the bluray.
And at the movies we watch – properly watch. No momentarily looking out the window to check on games being played in the backyard. No absent-mindedly wandering into the kitchen for more wine or another bowl of chips. Family members and flatmates don’t wander in at pivotal moments asking where keys were left or what is planned for dinner.
There is just the adventure. At the movies, the adventure has our undivided attention. It is at the movies that the adventure captivates us.
It’s a ritual, going to the movies. Purchasing a ticket, picking up popcorn and choc-tops, finding a favourite place among the rows of seats that face the screen like pews before an altar. Waiting for the lights to dim, chatting through the ads while lolly bags are opened and packaging unwrapped. Trailers are shown – previews of future adventures – and we are enveloped by the dark, together.
Going to the movies is an experience we share together – properly share, in person not just in a Twitter feed. At the movies we have companions on our adventures, most of them complete strangers.
Our laughter mixes with theirs in the dark. We jump higher in our seats because we hear their screams of fright. Our tears flow more freely because others around us are wiping their cheeks. At the movies we feel the tension in the dark as we each hold our breath.
It is at the movies that we experience adventure as part of an audience, as one among what Norma Desmond called “those wonderful people out there in the dark!”
What's your favourite movie experience that just wouldn't have been the same at home?