It comes as no surprise to see how much COVID-19 has altered our cultural landscape over the past year. Looking back, it seems almost absurd to think that we ever willingly congregated in dozens to hundreds for two hours simply to watch a movie, but that was our norm for the past century and a treasured pastime for many. 

The cinema industry, among others, has understandably taken a great hit in its efforts to maintain community safety. Multiple chains and local theatres have completely ceased operations, and numerous release dates for highly anticipated features have been pushed back, including Denis Villeneuve’s Dune and the latest installment in the James Bond saga, No Time to Die.

The last film I had the chance of watching in theatres right before COVID-19 began to spike was the 2019 adaptation of Little Women directed by Greta Gerwig. It never would have dawned on me while watching Jo March bickering with her sisters and trying to make her way in the world that I would not be able to enter that sacred building again for quite a while. 

In all honesty, had I known that anything to the extent of the pandemic would have taken over the world as we know it, I would have ordered a popcorn bag large enough to last me the season.  

In the age of booming digitalization, we have undoubtedly witnessed a monumental transformation in the way we consume media. Online streaming services have proved to be increasingly convenient during this time of lockdowns and distancing, allowing us to safely travel to fictional worlds and navigate alternate realities from the comfort of our living rooms.

However, while the content of a movie itself does not typically differ depending on the location of its viewing, it is a well-known truth of the universe that there is something distinctly precious about that movie theatre experience. The magic lies in the irreplaceable feeling of sitting in a dimly lit, overcrowded room with a group of strangers who have seemingly nothing in common while slowly realizing, as the film progresses, that you all share a common humanity in your love of the art. 

Some moviegoers may be avid cinephiles who live for analyzing production quality, lighting, and cinematography, while others may just be there for a good laugh and a memory to take home with them. Neither one of these pursuits are any less valuable than the other, which is what makes experiencing a movie as part of a diverse audience that much more fulfilling. 

I will never forget the collective bliss and booming cheers of satisfaction that could be heard from miles away when Captain America wielded Thor’s prized hammer in Avengers: Endgame or the tears streaming down the faces of everyone, both young and old, at the end of Pixar’s 2017 animated feature Coco

These are the rare moments in which the rest of the world goes quiet while you become immersed in the unspoken bond made with those around you, if only for a brief running time. I know I am not alone in the sentiment that I would surely give anything to experience that enchanting atmosphere one more time, even if it means sitting in the front row and having to endure the pain of a strained neck.  

As time progresses, so too will our country’s efforts to tame this ailment and prioritize the health and safety of the public above all else. In the meantime, we can still find ways to support filmmakers and artists in the hopes of once again getting to leave the theatre after a gratifying watch — confused as to where the exit door is — with butter-covered fingers and a heart forever changed.