Friday, January 09, 2009

In The Company of Strangers

We live in a world where new media (whether purposefully designed to or not), is more and more often experienced alone or in very small groups. We plug in our headphones, stare at the tiny screen, close the door on neighbors and surroundings, and begin our solo trip.

One form of media however, doesn't fit this mold. Unlike most media, a theatrically released motion picture is designed to be seen with dozens or even hundreds of other people. Most of whom are strangers we will never know.

Yet there is something intimate and welcoming about the shared experience of sitting with hundreds of other moviegoers. I think it is a feeling of searching for community.

I've read recently that filmed media is moving away from the theatrical model, to a more intimate delivery model. I don't buy it. Plugging into our portable media devices doesn't create a more intimate filmed entertainment experience, it creates a more isolated experience. That may serve us well for a 20 minute subway ride, but is hardly how we want to spend a Saturday night.

Going to the movies is a ritual. We hear about a new movie, gather our friends and head out for a piece of the promised adventure. We arrive at the theater, buy our snacks, rush to grab our seats and glance around to see who will be traveling along with us. We welcome these other travelers because we somehow unconsciously know that whatever emotions we feel will be magnified by the collective group.

When the lights dim, our focus shifts. We sit there in the dark, staring up at the screen and at that moment anything is possible. The excitement builds because at that moment there exists the possibility we will leave behind the world around us and become a player in the world unfolding before us.

People love going to the movies. We go in good economic times and bad. We go with friends and family and lovers. We go for a thousand different reasons and with a single hope -- to share in a great story, well told.

When a movie works, it touches us individually, transports us collectively and involves us totally. When a movie works we exist together in another place. When a movie works we sit in the dark not as strangers, but as comrades sharing love and pain and triumph.

We only become strangers again when the lights go up.