When I was in high school, I had a big dream: I wanted to go to the movie theater regularly. Crazy, huh? I’m from rural Maine. Trekking to the theater was an endeavor reserved only for the biggest films that simply couldn’t be seen anywhere other than the silver screen — the silver screen at Regal Cinemas at Cook’s Corner in Brunswick to be precise. It’s really not a nice theater, but I’ll never forget seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Captain America: Civil War there. At least it’s adjacent to the Applebee’s.
To be fair, I didn’t really have a point of comparison. If I went anywhere else it was the little indie theater on Brunsick’s main steet that I went to a few times with my friend Senior year of high school. But that was a little one-screen joint where a bag of popcorn was $5 and the old man who ran the place played a little video introduction that he taped ahead of your film. We saw Eighth Grade and Old Man & The Gun there. It was a lot like the local theater in my town of Damariscotta, which played movies that were already out of their theatrical frame and were sponsored by a local business. I went just one time, my cousin and I saw Arrival.
I had a fair few one-off visits like this. My poker-playing art teacher turned golf coach turned film club advisor took us on a field trip to Portland where we saw Blade Runner 2049. My family once spent a small fortune at an eat-in Florida theater to see Zootopia. My mom and I ended up at a Cinemagic to see Justice League. I can pinpoint these moments because every trip to the theater was, again, an endeavor. We didn’t casually head to see a movie. The distance made this a luxury I couldn’t afford.
And I can’t drive. That’s an important detail to this story. My inability to get behind the wheel after suffering through Driver’s Ed can be attributed to the OCD and anxiety cocktail that my brain sips on with scary regularity. Funnily enough, part of my escape from that was, and still is, the movie theater. But I just couldn’t get there very often. So going to the movies regularly became my dream.
Fast-forward to Fall 2019 and I’m a college freshman here at Wheaton. Just about a month into the school year, I end up on a train to Providence, Rhode Island to see Joker at the Providence Place Mall. My girlfriend Jeanne and I returned a few weeks later by train for Knives Out. But the train’s an ordeal. First you’ve got to catch the GATRA to the station, then you’ve got to actually ride the rails to Providence. Then you’ve got to walk to the mall. Then you have to endure the mall to reach the theater. Still, I came back Spring 2020 for a Sonic the Hedgehog and Birds of Prey double feature.
Then COVID shut the world down. I wouldn’t return to the movies until Summer 2021, when I saw Black Widow in Lincoln, Nebraska with some of my best friends. That was a long year without a theater visit. Although, I came back to campus Fall of 2020 and desperately wanted to go see Tenet in the cinema. I almost did, but was afraid I’d get in trouble given the COVID guidelines that semester. Looking back, I wish I had just gone. Should I admit that?
Regardless, it wouldn’t be until my roommate and I convinced a mutual friend to shepherd us (again, no car) to Attleboro for No Time to Die that I’d make my second theater visit of 2021. The third came in December — some six weeks after I settled for watching Dune in my dorm. I made a trip to see Spider-Man: No Way Home. As far as Marvel films go I found it unremarkable, more important for what the voyage represented than what I saw.
I didn’t beg anyone to take me, and the trains didn’t line up for a trip to Providence. As it turns out, I did a bit of cartography. GATRA Go’s outer limits include Patriot Place, the sports and shopping complex that, most importantly, houses a Showcase Cinemas. For the price of your Wheaton tuition, your ID will get you that three-dollar bus ride “free of charge,” depositing you directly outside Showcase’s doors.
Of course, the GATRA Go turns a twenty-minute ride into a forty-five minute ordeal and makes seeing even a two-hour movie an affair that needs four hours budgeted. I didn’t care. There was a route to my dream. Before too long, though, Jeanne got a car on campus. And we didn’t have to struggle with the GATRA anymore, despite it remaining an option. When we lived on campus over the summer, I had to patiently wait for it to bring me to and from Patriot Place for Nope when she was out of town, but otherwise we enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, short car journeys to the cinema.
Access allowed for even the films that don’t “need” the big screen to be enjoyed there. Three-Thousand-Years of Longing, Bones and All, A Man Called Otto — I don’t suspect that people felt like Tom Hanks’ early 2023 acting vehicle and double adaptation A Man Called Otto needs a screen larger than all four walls in my Beard dorm put together. But I’m one of ten people who saw Amsterdam in theaters. Another three of those ten were Jeanne and two friends we pulled along.
For me, a film’s scale isn’t a predicate for its viewing at the cinema. I go to the theater for the theater’s sake. To me, the multiplex is an oasis, a big building dedicated to telling stories and enshrining them on a screen so large I couldn’t cover it with every material possession I have. I’ll see anything at the theater. And now, I think of Showcase Cinemas when I do. When I returned to Regal over Christmas break for Babylon, I wished I had been at Showcase. I also wished I had been in a screening without an annoying couple taking over Damien Chazelle’s misunderstood masterpiece, but whatever.
When I saw Bones and All at Patriot Pace right before break, the woman behind the concession stand had my Blue Icey’s cup ready before I ordered. I guess I’m somewhat of a regular now. Although this sounds incredibly sad, it really did make my week to hear that. And while this sounds incredibly irresponsible, I’m happy to spend twenty or thirty dollars on each trip to the movies.
I want to support Showcase, though. I want to do my part to keep their doors open as each of my showings aside from Top Gun: Maverick and opening night comic book fare see attendance dwindle. I also pay for Showcase Subscribe, to get three tickets a month for a flat fee. So I can, through minimal mental gymnastics, justify those concession prices.
I’d just hate to see Showcase disappear. There’s little doubt that tentpole filmmaking is all that’s propping up the moviegoing market. And that’s sad. It’s disappointing to me that my auditorium for The Woman King was maybe half full and that The Menu played at twenty-percent capacity. I love the reverence of the movie theater experience. I love the buttery popcorn fingers I rub on my pants when I inevitably forget a napkin. And I love that Showcase Cinemas has given me the opportunity to love that screen and those buttery fingers almost every week.