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This is the first year in my life I won’t go to the movies. 

Sure, maybe my parents didn’t trot a tetchy infant to the local theater, but they’re not talking and I don’t recall, so just believe me. And if you’re wondering about the beginning of the year, it was a hectic few months before the pandemic hit. Regardless, this is the first year in memory I won’t set foot inside a movie theater, screening venue or other place where groups of people gather in the dark to commune with the most sublimely modern art form there is. 

No sticky floors. No suspect popcorn. No previews, and a year without that rising thrill that the final lowering of the house lights and the rise of the music brings, even now, even when I’m undeniably, irrefutably old – the same feeling I got when I saw “Star Wars” for the first time, in the long-defunct Saugus (Massachusetts) Theater. And yes, I said “Star Wars,” and not “A New Hope,” because there was only one “Star Wars” then, and I was seeing it alongside my family, and it was going to blow my little neophyte movie nerd brain to pieces. I still expect the 20th Century Fox fanfare to announce the start of every movie I see in a theater. And I’m always a little let down. 

But this year – after some 10 more theatrical “Star Wars Films” have whooshed by on the big screen – I’m not going. For those who know me – not to mention those who know what I do for a living – that’s a big deal. It’s sure as hell a big deal for me. 

Call it COVID-19, the coronavirus, or just that thing that showed America it isn’t all that, but the current and still very much ongoing pandemic has disrupted a lot of stuff – almost all of it much more important than the movies. Apart from the nearly 200,000 dead people (and that’s a huge “apart from”) and the untold millions still uncertain what their exposure will mean for their long-term health, people have lost jobs, the economy is crumbling, people are being evicted, and kids are facing the ironic punishment of a September without in-person schools. And don’t get me started on baseball. 

The thing is, I won’t be going to Fenway this year, either. For one thing, they won’t let me, even for this farcical joke of a third of a season. It’s not that I don’t trust you guys. Anyone who reads my stuff – you’re all right.

But I don’t trust you. Hell, I don’t trust myself – the incubation period of this pernicious diseases means I could have it and not know. So cramming into an enclosed space with untold number of strangers all using the cover of darkness to munch Raisinets in their mask-less mouths and trusting that the old, dusty, already-just-surviving theaters I prefer have somehow managed to scrub down and ventilate between shows?

Look, it’s just not safe. Not for me, not for you, and not for the people – from the ticket-takers, to the cleaners, to the concession workers (often, at my preferred single-screen theaters, the same person) – whom my presence is forcing to run the risk. And I know that those people can’t get paid if I’m not there, making my sacrifice (and it is a sacrifice) completely irrelevant for them come rent time. That’s the real kicker about this virus: It’s left us with no good choices. 

And here’s where I get (briefly, I promise) a little rant-y. Nobody is hiding a miracle cure. Nobody is lying about how deadly this is just to keep you from living your normal life. There’s no insidiously weaponized foreign virus with a racist name. Nobody is making you take the minuscule precaution of putting a mask over your mouth and nose because they’re just trying to make you look like a (insert epithet here). COVID is real. It’s deeply contagious. It’s ground America to a halt far more dramatically than we Americans ever imagined possible. We have cellphones, for crying out loud – we have smart homes that talk to us, and we can order our pizza online! We’re America, dammit!

And movies are – apologies to the vast and wondrous cinema of the world – deeply American, too, dammit. And that’s been taken from us. By nothing. By a thing we can’t see and that some opportunistic (or, to put it bluntly, ignorant) people claim isn’t a real worldwide health crisis. We have to make sacrifices if this pandemic shutdown is ever going to end.

And, believe me, the movies are a big, freaking sacrifice. Everybody has that one thing, that little, in-the-grand-scheme-of-things insignificant pleasure that this pandemic has taken away. The one precious little thing we didn’t even know we just needed, and whose loss, when it impossibly came, felt like the last straw of all, razor-sharp, twisting last straws. (At least one – baseball was, as mentioned, a real kick in the guts.) 

But self-sacrifice for the common good is as much of an American thing (in theory) as our national independence and bull-headed refusal to let anything impinge upon our idea of who we are. The internet is filled with all-American meltdowns of people screaming, yelling and in some cases physically assaulting workers who dared ask them to wear a mask. For the safety of others. Because we’re all in this together. Because we, as human beings, need to take a breath and put aside our bridling pride and, yeah, selfishness, and think about other people who want to just stay alive. 

So I’m not going to the movies in 2020, for the first time in my life. Sure, I don’t want to get sick, and I don’t want to commit the unthinkable, unforgivable crime of bringing sickness to my wife or other people I love. But, mainly, I’m not putting other people in that position, either. As a critic, I have the added salve of prerelease screeners from time to time, but mostly, I’ll make do with cable, Netflix, my precious DVDs. I’ll support local theaters by streaming through the PMA or The Apohadion, which will at least provide a trickle of ticket revenue to the places I hope to frequent again (with a vengeance) as soon as it’s responsible and safe to do so. 

Stay home. Stay safe. Think, for all that’s good, of others. The movies will come back, just like everything else. Wait for them. 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.


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