Movie tickets are expensive. Most people go to the movies only when they have copious amounts of time. Boredom becomes intolerable, and to capitulate to the money pit of a theater is but a mild concession to rid themselves of their blank stares and thumb-twiddling.
A ticket ranges from $10-$12, maybe upwards of that at a premier theater (I recently paid $16 for a ticket at one of those avant-garde lounge-chair theaters). Through the lucrative platform of the captive audience, theater snacks compound an outing to the movies into reckless financial brinkmanship. The theaters have ostracized customers because of their outlandish prices, and with the advent of mass-streaming, the in-theater experience has dwindled to a barely glowing ember.
But Mitch Lowe, an early Netflix executive, has seemingly revived the movie-going experience with the creation of MoviePass, a subscription-based platform that, for $8.75 per month, allows you to see an unlimited number of movies in theaters. Upon subscription, MoviePass mails you a debit card (accepted at, ostensibly, any theater that accepts debit cards) that allows you to purchase one ticket per day, excluding IMAX or 3-D showings. Yep, that’s it.
When I first heard about MoviePass, I legitimately did not believe the pitch. It sounded like a scam, a too-good deal that had to be exploitative in some way. But unless my bank account is being looted slowly and with nearly undetectable care, MoviePass is not too good to be true. It’s an unfathomable deal that turns nonexistent movie-goers into consistent patrons ,and saves the theater-loyalists from choosing between a ticket and a meal.
There is, I believe, a difference between watching a movie at home and in the theaters. The small screen, the ability to pause-and-pee, pause-and-snack, etc., hampers the flow of a movie. The movie itself is beholden to the viewer, and extrinsic whims can come to dominate the experience, which trivialize your cue card -sized screen into a toy to be played with. In the theater, the viewer is vulnerable, beholden to the movie. Style and content wash over one as a brilliant wave. You cannot pause for a bathroom break; you may miss crucial fulcra. It is the perspectival, power-driven distance between one’s own squint at a small screen versus the theater-screen’s maw agape — myopic, artistic fiddles versus cascading art.
But perhaps I am an archaism in my proselytization of the in-theater experience. Richard Brody, film critic for The New Yorker, has said on multiple occasions that he is able to adequately analyze films from both the theater and the couch. But most people cannot conjure critical energies at will, and the in-theater experience for the layman at least feints towards the viewer’s engagement with artistic merit. On a common level, the social isolation perpetuated by our age of siphoned experience makes private movie-watching yet another iteration of social malady. Progressing through a movie with one’s fellow citizens (a notion whose value has been corroborated through films like Get Out, Black Panther and on a slightly lower-level, through the mother-daughter strife of Lady Bird) is a sort of collective bargaining with life. It is an exercise that negotiates, both individually and collectively, the film’s ideas. Walking out of the theater catching comments about a certain film, or even walking in a cavalcade of silence (think American Sniper), works to bolster one’s acuity to navigate the zeitgeist. This is an important skill to have in a time of individual dogmatism and despotic opinions. Anything one can do to try to understand another is a valuable (might I say noble?) thing.
A friend recently received MoviePass for his birthday. My hope is that we begin to attend theaters consistently as not only a thing for friends to do together, but as an activity that creates conversation. My quixotism about reviving what I believe to be the vital impact of film through MoviePass could be misplaced, but it is platforms like Mr. Lowe’s that raise my confidence. I hope my friend doesn’t cancel his subscription.