Happy New Year, fellow nerds! This is the third and final post in a series wrapping up a different year in a different way. I’ve been recapping my year in media not through traditional “Best of” lists but instead through snapshots of how my relationships with TV, books, and movies reflected my journey through 2020. If you’re looking for great “Best of 2020” content, I highly recommend heading over to Marvelous Geeks and TVexamined for their lists and listening to the 2-part podcast I recorded with the wonderful women behind those two sites, where we recapped our TV favorites from this year. Since this post is going live on New Year’s Eve, I want to wish you all a happy, safe, and healthy start to 2021. May we all find brighter days in the coming year!
I’m not sure how to talk about movies this year.
Movies got me through 2018. And 2019. And I was ready for them to get me through 2020. In a string of years that featured major work stress, family health issues, and personal struggles, movies were my saving grace. When I stepped into a movie theater, I could forget about my own life for a couple of hours and become enveloped by a story that was all-encompassing. And when I stepped back out into the world, the world felt different. It felt brighter. It felt lighter. It felt bigger than me and my problems.
Then, a pandemic happened. And my world suddenly shrank to the four walls of my house and the often claustrophobic confines of my anxiety-ridden brain. The world felt so much smaller—suffocating and smothering.
And when it felt that way, I found myself missing movies, missing the ability to walk into a dark room and go somewhere else—anywhere else—and emerge from that journey feeling better than I did before the previews began.
I found myself missing the shared joy of a New Year’s Day family excursion to see The Rise of Skywalker, the excitement of taking myself to a Saturday matinee of Parasite, the emotional journey of Onward turning out to be nothing like I expected—in the best possible way.
I started 2020 on a movie fan high—seeing every Best Picture Oscar nominee before the ceremony for the first time in more than a decade. I was going to the movies by myself more often—relishing the sense of independence it gave me and the deeply personal, almost spiritual, experience that’s the closest thing I get to church (outside of church itself). I was making plans with friends and family to see a long lineup of great movies that were set to open this year.
And then it all stopped.
Of course I still watched movies. I enjoyed the lush beauty of Emma. I found Disney’s new take on Mulan to be thrilling and gorgeous to look at. I rewatched a lot of Star Wars movies and took comfort in animated favorites.
But it didn’t feel the same.
My couch is comfortable, and my TV screen is big. I’ve watched plenty of new movies at home before. But it never feels the same as a trip to the theater.
The phone rings. People walk into the room to talk. The siren song of Twitter and Instagram is so close. The lights are too bright, and the popcorn never tastes exactly the same.
So for a long time, I didn’t watch any movies. And I could feel my world getting smaller—and my problems feeling bigger—as a result.
It took until Christmas Day—and two miraculous movies—for that to start to change.
On a day when I’m usually running around to see family that I don’t see for the rest of the year, I instead chose to stay safe and stay home. However, the world didn’t feel claustrophobic that day. It felt comfortable. And it was all because my sister and I made a plan to spend the day watching movies, really watching them. Not half-watching while doomscrolling through social media. But really watching them.
And close to the end of Wonder Woman 1984 something happened to me that hadn’t happened during a movie since I saw Onward in theaters a week before the world shut down.
I started to cry. Really cry—tears running down my neck, ugly crying.
Something about this larger-than-life story opened my world up again. It opened me up again.
And even though I’d been stuck in my house since March, it finally felt like I was home.
That feeling continued through Soul and its completely transportive tale of what it means to live. Soul reminds us that the meaning of life isn’t to achieve success. A life isn’t meaningful because it’s successful. A life is meaningful because it’s lived.
Big moments, small moments, seemingly insignificant moments—they all make up the symphony of our life. And they all have value. They all have meaning.
That’s our purpose—to live. Not to strive. Not to hustle. To live.
And when I turned off the movie and got ready for bed, that lesson stayed in my brain as surely as it would have if I was mulling it over on the long walk from the warm movie theater to my car on a December night in Buffalo.
Movies help me feel alive. They always have—since I was three years old and completely captivated by how big Belle and Beast seemed in that ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast. And for now, the way I experience movies might not be ideal, but Wonder Woman 1984 and Soul taught me that even on a smaller screen, the right movies can still make my world feel bigger.
Movies got me through this year with valuable lessons about life, love, and standing in your truth. But they also got me through this year by giving me something to hope for.
We all have that one place we dream of going back to—our physical anchor to the hope that one day this too shall pass. For some people, it’s an airport. For others, it’s Disney World or Las Vegas or their favorite restaurant on a busy Saturday night. Some people dream of football stadiums, while others dream of the theater. Some people crave the smell of their parents’ house when their mom is making red sauce; others replay the sounds of a concert.
Me? I dream of movie theaters.
When the stress and bad news and isolation seem never-ending, I think of how it’s going to feel to walk back into a movie theater. To smell the popcorn the second you walk into the lobby. To settle in to your seat and let the darkness envelop you. To taste the Cherry Coke or the Snow Caps as the previews begin. To drop every problem as the lights drop, and to feel your heart, your mind, and your world open up as you lose yourself in a story that demands your full attention—your whole self. To hear the excited chattering (or stunned silence) as the credits roll. And to feel the fresh air hit your face as you walk into a world that’s changed—sometimes literally (my favorite moviegoing experiences are always matinees in the winter when you go inside and it’s daytime and you come out to a night sky) but sometimes just because you’ve changed in those few hours.
That’s what I long for. That’s what I hope for. That’s the story I tell myself on days when it seems like this is never going to end.
Movies give me something to hope for.
And hope is the only way we can get through anything.