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Outside view of the closed AMC Theater, amid the coronavirus pandemic – Photo by Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images

Communities and Movie Theaters in the Age of Coronavirus

Do you remember what life was like before lockdown? It feels so recent, and yet so long ago. Back in March, I remember returning to London from a trip to D.C., only to find out upon landing that the entire city had been shut down. Instead of taking an Uber to the office as planned, I went back to my flat, unpacked my laptop, and started my first day of working from home. Restaurants, pubs and cafes had all closed. But one of the things I missed most, surprisingly, was the theater.

I know plenty of people believe that theaters are on their way out, especially with the proliferation of streaming services, the tightening of release windows, and the affordability of large, high quality televisions. I, on the other hand, am a huge advocate of the theater. There’s nothing quite like losing yourself in a film, and the immersion you get from surround-sound and a huge screen is unlike anything you could ever emulate at home.

Now that things in London have started to re-open, I’ve finally had a chance to return to the restaurants, pubs and cafes I used to frequent – all in adherence to new protocol, of course. But while even shisha lounges have popped up around the neighborhood, movie theaters have remained closed.

In the absence of theaters, I’ve started to recognize and appreciate some of the indirect benefits that they bring. They unite us, connect us, and create opportunities for us to engage with one another in unique ways. Here are just a few examples of how movie theaters enrich the communities they belong to.

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They facilitate relationships

In most cases, going to the movies is a sure-fire way to develop a deeper relationship with another person. Maybe it’s your parents, kids, spouse, or a new friend. There’s something special about anticipating a film’s release, and then going to the movies to watch it together. It’s an exhilarating shared experience, and it lasts much longer than the length of the film.

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They create opportunities for dialogue

This might be ironic because the purpose of a movie theater is to sit in silence, but you can’t deny the hours you spend after the movie talking with your friends about that crazy villain, stunt, or plot twist. When you’ve just come out of the theater and are feeling the raw emotions from a film, you can connect with the people around you on a deeper level. Not being in the same physical space means that when you talk to your buddy about a movie, you might be talking to them hours – or even days – after the film has been watched, making the conversations far less rich.

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They weave communities together

When I was living in West LA, I used to visit Landmark’s Nuart Theatre all the time. Sometimes I would just go by myself on a lazy Sunday morning to watch whatever was showing at that time. I used to go often enough that I would even see familiar faces. Some young, some old; it was just easy to make small talk over coffee about whatever it was we were about to see. Most of the time, these were average people who, like myself, lived in the neighborhood and wanted to kill some time. They were people I shared a community with, who I would never have had a chance to connect with had it not been for the theater.

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They remind you that you’re part of something bigger

Have you ever watched a hilarious movie, and laughed at the same time as everyone around you? Or been at a thriller and gasped at the same jump-scare as the couple beside you? Sharing these emotional reactions with complete strangers is a welcome reminder that there’s something very universal about the human experience that expands beyond background, race, or status.

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In the end, going to the movies can be a therapeutic ritual. Whether you’re with a friend or flying solo, the theater is a healthy way to stay connected to the people around you. Maybe that’s what has me yearning to go back in the midst of lockdown; the fact that when I’m watching a movie, I somehow feel connected to even the strangers around me. Fingers crossed, it won’t be long before I’m back in an over-sized chair, snacking on greasy popcorn, scanning the previews for the next big feature.

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