We watched the Super Mario Brothers movie last week. In a real live, gen-u-whine movie theatre. FilmScene at the Chauncey. A non-profit theatre in Iowa City. It was, as far as I can remember, the first time I’ve gone to a movie theatre since this fine nation was ravaged by a pandemic.
The boys were happy to go see a movie. It was a Friday. They had the day off of school. So I suggested a trip to the cinema. To get them out of the house. To get us out of the house.
The boys loved the movie. I thought it was fine. All sorts of nostalgia. And there was a morose luma that evoked a couple of belly laughs from me. But the actual film wasn’t the point. There is something so comforting about a movie theatre. The lights dim. The screen lights up. There’s something wonderful about that sort of shared, public escape from reality. Suspension of disbelief.
I’ve got so many warm memories of watching movies with Mom, Dad, and Christie at the Highland Theatre. In Highland Park. A few blocks from where I grew up. A Tudor house on Mt. Curve Boulevard near the Mississippi River.
“M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I!” This is chant I learned in school to memorize how to spell Mississippi. At Horace Mann Elementary in Highland Park. Now my boys go to Horace Mann Elementary in Iowa City. I still appreciate that symmetry.
Highland Theatre, when I was a boy, had a little of that old movie theatre feel. You walked up the steps to the main theatre. Big red curtains framed the screen. It felt like going somewhere important.
I remember watching Star Wars with Dad and being terrified of Darth Vader. I worried he was in my closest for months afterwards. I covered my eyes during the sex scene in Top Gun, fascinated by what I was missing. Watching Major League and Spaceballs with my friends John and Dookie felt like the first taste of adulthood. Jamming popcorn that was dripping with gooey, toxic butter without a care in the world about the menace of high blood pressure. Those were, in a word, the days. Two words, I guess.
Later, in high school, my best friend Josh rose to the ranks of manager at White Bear Township movie theatre. This was after my family fell apart, we fled the city, and I ended up in the suburbs living with Dad. Josh was happy to sneak us into whatever movies we wanted to see. Nick, Mike, Hindu, Windisch, Foltz, whoever. Some combination of those guys would stop at the gas station after school, stuff our jackets with candy, and walk nonchalantly pass the ticket booth. A glint in Josh’s eye. I probably saw a million free movies at White Bear Township from 1996-2000. Maybe a billion. Likely a zillion. I’m a master of late 90’s cinema. Steve Buscemi was my idol. And don’t get me started on Scarlett Johansson. I used to call her Baby Scar-Scar. Chew on the dysfunction of that phrase.
My experiences at Highland Theatre and White Bear Township seem like a lifetime ago. Many lifetimes ago. And yet they felt close as I sat with my boys at FilmScene in Iowa City, watching a silly movie about the Super Mario Brothers.
And of course the boys loved the movie. They’ve watched me beat every Mario game that has come out since they were born. And they’re actually pretty good themselves. Solomon recently played Super Mario Odyssey again. He cruises through the game. There is a profound genius to the Mario games. You’ll never convince me otherwise.
We wandered back to the car after the movie. An icy, Iowa City wind disturbing an otherwise peaceful, spring afternoon. The boys chattering about the movie.
The cares of this world close in. They’ve certainly closed in on me this year. A year of upheaval. Of change. It’s been a challenging year. There’s something important about reminding myself that all the things that feel so important in the moment aren’t really all that important. Suspension of disbelief provides a little distance. A little perspective. Going to watch a movie in a dark theatre with strangers, for whatever reason, reminds me that there’s more going on.