Weekend Wanderer: Let’s All Go to the Movies


Everybody should have a movie buddy, that person – people if you’re lucky – who accompany you to any movie, any time. My movie buddies and I have seen everything together, from Black Panther to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer.

Abraham Lincoln as a vampire slayer was not a great concept. But movie buddies don’t cast dispersions. You’re in it together, for better or worse.

Yes. Like marriage.

In 2011, one such buddy and I sat in a theater. Contagion had widowed Matt Damon and radicalized Jude Law. We were halfway through the film, the titular virus having killed millions, shut down society, incited looting.

And in a quiet, still moment of that story, my movie buddy coughed.

In unison, two hundred theater-goers flinched.

“Um, sorry?” my friend called out. “Allergies … ” Which nobody in that theater believed. But without saying a word, we all weighed our group disquiet with that cough against our never knowing if Matt Damon survives to the end of the movie.

We chose Matt Damon.

Obviously, we all decided to forget Patrick Dempsey’s infectious movie-theater cough in Outbreak.

That’s the magic of a movie, and it is one reason why going back to the movies is at the top of my post-vaccination to-do list.

Death might be the great equalizer, but going to the movies is the great unifier. In a study conducted by the University College London – released, eerily, in January of 2020 – researchers strapped activity monitors to moviegoers as they watched a flick.

As the movie’s action waxed and waned, the researchers noted the heart rates of their subjects rose and fell, in unison with the film’s action.

And in unison with each other.

Their hearts were beating together.

Or, in the case of that Contagion theater, their disgust registered together.

 It was a really wet cough.

What’s even better is those study participants’ heart rates rose into the “healthy heart zone” for much of the movie. Like a workout.

Now, I’ve run half-marathons with hundreds of other people, and I’ve watched movies with hundreds of other people. Both got my heart rate up. But only one of those made my heart beat in harmony with those around me, and only one of those occasionally had naked people.

It wasn’t the half-marathon. I’d do another if a few naked people were about.

The CDC says those who are vaccinated can feel safe hitting the movies. Theaters currently open are employing a host of mitigation measures – and this map shows that theaters in every state are open to some degree.

Well, maybe I shouldn’t say “host.” That word feels about as gross as my movie buddy’s cough. Let’s just say theaters are aiming to forestall the spread of COVID.

To that end, theaters probably have a picture of my coughing movie buddy with a big red line through her face and “Lifetime Ban” written beneath.

I might need another movie buddy.

Going to the movies this summer could cure the finances of an industry decimated by the pandemic. Just as important are the questions this summer’s movies can answer. Does Emily Blunt triumph over the sightless aliens in A Quiet Place 2? What demonic force do we tangle with in The Conjuring 3? And why didn’t anybody tell me there’s a remake of Candyman on the way?

Those are critical questions. Educators talk about the summer slide, which is bad and as a parent, I fear. But things have gotten out of hand when we’re two years behind on the unrolling of the next phase in the MCU.

That’s the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in case you don’t know. Your kids don’t need to love the MCU. But as a parent, you have a responsibility to introduce them to it. That goes for The Beatles and Star Wars, too.

And probably Elvis.

I’ll make you a list.

My kids are acquainted with the MCU. And Star Wars. Their dad and I have a tacit child-rearing agreement. He orchestrates the outdoor stuff. But I get to take them to museums and the movies, to plays and musicals.

We have to make sure they’re well-rounded.

And that they cover their coughs.