It’s true that we have not been inside a movie theatre in more than two years now. We have not felt safe yet. We considered it for our anniversary, but couldn’t get a showing of the movie we wanted to see that fit with our babysitter’s schedule. These are still extraordinary times. Any decision about going anywhere takes careful discussion as to whether it’s worth the risk. I hope that’s true for all of you as well, and that you’re all being safe and careful. But even in the Before Times, we had to think about what movies we wanted to see, in a way that doesn’t occur to a lot of other people. Certainly it doesn’t come up in most discussions of what movies do well and what movies do better streaming.
The one that is easier to explain is that we are parents now. Before the kids were born, we’d put a list of the summer’s release dates on our calendar. Then, we’d discuss if those were movies we needed to watch right away, movies that could wait a while, or movies that we could see at home. However, these days, the first question is, “Do we have anyone to watch the kids?” This is really, really not helped by how few of our friends and family that we trust with the kids are local. For now, we’ve got the parents of a friend of our son’s, and . . . that’s about it.
We also can’t pay for a babysitter, which is the next question. It’s not just that we basically don’t know any teenagers to pay; it’s that we don’t have the money to pay a teenager. Consider the expenses of a movie; it’s tickets and babysitting and snacks and we like to go out to eat before or after, if we can, and of course gas is not cheap these days. Depending on where you live and so forth, you can be laying out as much as a hundred dollars for an evening out, if you have kids. Even if you don’t, going to the movies is not cheap.
Because that’s the hidden issue with the theatrical experience, isn’t it? There’s a lot of talk about how millennials are killing assorted industries, and the obvious response is that they simply can’t afford to buy things that their parents took for granted. Frankly, this is true of Gen X as well, but that’s okay; we don’t mind that you aren’t talking about us. We’ll be fine. But it’s true that a lot of people, regardless of age, are working two jobs for not enough to really pay their expenses. And that means you have to make hard decisions about what movies you’re willing to pay to see in the theatre, even if all you’re doing is buying one ticket.
How do you make the choice? Obviously, that’s a personal question. Maybe you’re a fan of a specific actor or director, and you’re just going to watch anything they do. Or there’s a genre you particularly love—my partner and I met and bonded over a mutual love of superheroes, and in the Before Time, I think we missed seeing one MCU movie in the theatre. In cases like that, the choice becomes obvious. You’re just going to go see Werner Herzog or Wes Anderson or whoever, and everyone who knows you knows that.
Other than that, though, you’re left making choices. Will you regret not seeing the Big, Shiny Movie? Do you want to be part of the conversation with all your friends? Are you determined to support independent studios? In normal years, I try to see as many Oscar nominees as possible between nominations and the ceremony. These are all discussions you find yourself having, either with yourself or with whoever you go see movies with; I have a friend with whom I go see the live theatrical RiffTrax, and that’s a fine tradition.
And honestly, sometimes, you just aren’t equipped for a serious movie. You are working very hard. You are taking the time and money out of what you can spare to go see something, and you don’t want to see the movie where everyone dies. That, you can watch at home, on a service you’re already paying for. (You can pay for mine by supporting my Patreon or Ko-fi!) Somewhere you can just turn it off if you turn out not to be in the place without wasting the money. That’s poverty for you.