The impending arrival of Christopher Nolan’s gigantic blockbuster, Tenet, has been met with a great deal of justified hand-wringing and concern about what message film critics send by reviewing any exclusive theatrical releases. “Is it morally justifiable to highly recommend a film that executives refuse to show outside of cinemas?”, is the question on the average film critic’s mind. This issue is thorny and complex, especially in the United States – a country that has colossally failed to contain or curb the coronavirus. Blame the instilled idea in so many Americans that their personal freedoms are more important than anything else in the world, even other peoples’ lives.
As movie theaters across the country slowly reopen along different state guidelines, the overwhelming majority of voices in this debate about the necessity of the theatrical experience have decided it’s best to stay at home and not contribute until it’s safe to return. Others, like New Mutants director Josh Boone, have stated that “I know 80% of theaters are going to be open to meet us. I know when I see pictures online of 400 people at a house party without masks, I know that they are good to go put a mask on and go to a movie. I sort of feel like it’s definitely safer than sitting inside a restaurant and eating and/or going to get on an airplane.” There’s one voice missing in the mix: the voices of coronavirus survivors.
I am one of them.
It was inevitable that the coronavirus would catch up with me; I live with someone who works at a nursing home that was hit hard during the early stages of the pandemic; in that one place alone, 62 lives were lost. I’ve known others who have had it as well. There are many who’ve said they only had mild symptoms, or even none at all. I envy them. Here’s what happened to me.
The coronavirus is the worst illness I’ve ever had. There was nothing I could do but lie in wait and beg for the pain to go away. What starts off as a simple cough becomes excruciating pain in three days. The chills settle in, and all the blankets in the world aren’t enough to bring back the heat – even when you have a fever of more than 103 degrees. The only heat was inside my lungs. They felt as if they were made of nothing more than tinder, and a rampaging fire was burning away every last bronchi while my trachea was slowly roasting to ash. You feel the inferno inside your chest even though the fluids inside your lungs make you feel like you’re drowning. Food becomes vomit-inducing, and you stop eating. You live on crackers and water for ten days. The overall body aches and pains are so severe that it feels as if an 18 wheeler ran you over, backed up on you, and ran you over again.
It was a miserable purgatory. One night, the pain was so overwhelming that I couldn’t stop crying as I begged for death to take the pain away. And on that night, I was convinced that it was going to happen, and my life would be mercifully cut short. I wanted nothing more than death – and I could feel it almost take me. Then…it slowly left me. The pains subsided, the fire in my lungs ceased, and my body started accepting food again. I had a voice that made me sound as if Rizzo from Midnight Cowboy chewed gravel, but I was alive. It took about three months for my breathing to return to “normal”, and even now I’m slowly dealing with another side effect: temporary hair loss. I survived.
This disease is the fucking worst. Yet here we are, and the movie theaters are opening again (though for how long, we can’t say). The truth is…I’m oddly excited to go back. There’s a benefit to living in Massachusetts, a state that’s handled the pandemic better than almost every other place in the country: we get to bounce back at a faster rate due to the cautionary strictness of the reopening plans. Bars and nightclubs? Not coming back until there’s a cure, and the state is cracking down on bars masquerading as restaurants. No major public events until next year. Schools aren’t reopening for in-person classes either.
That’s why the movie theaters are back here, barred from selling food or beverages per state mandate and with 40% or less capacity. God knows I’m thrilled that they’re returning here, even though any planned trips won’t be anywhere near as frequent as they used to be, until that long awaited vaccine finally comes. I’m planning on seeing Tenet, at least. I’ll be watching it in the corner of the auditorium, far away from anyone else, with a mask on the whole time. I’ve missed the theatrical experience, but I’m not going to be stupid about it. If you’re going to the movies, I only ask you to be prepared: mask on the whole time (no snacks and no drinks), hand sanitizer, maybe even a little can of Lysol to spray down your seat as an extra measure to keep it clean.
I’ll admit it: I’m probably going to go to the movies more than once this year after September 1st if they make it all the way to New Year’s Eve. It’s a tricky situation with no clear answer, as the movie theater industry is in danger of dying – and if you think Hollywood will save them, then I admire your naïveté. Warner Brothers wants 63% of ticket sales during Tenet’s entire run, and Disney moved their would-be billion dollar hit Mulan to Disney+ where they can make 100% of the rental sales. It’s a grim situation, but in 2020, everything is.
The choice to go to the movies is ultimately up to you. I only share my story of the coronavirus as a reminder of how serious this can be, and that if you want to go, you have to take precautions. I only ask that you take your local coronavirus case numbers and local guidelines seriously, wear a mask, and skip the overpriced popcorn. Or buy the popcorn and take it home! It’s one way to support your local cinema. Even better: renting movies from your local cinemas through their VOD websites!
Movie-going is back, even if it’s in a fragile state. Just be careful. That’s all I have the power to say.
21, born and raised in Boston. Mamma Mia wine mom personality. Jerry Gogosian of the film world.