By Daniel Dunaief
My wife and I are wildly out of practice at an activity we used to do on dates.
Hey, I’m talking about going to movies. What did you think I meant? Never mind.
Anyway, after three and a half years, we finally ventured out to see a movie. No streaming at home, not taking a long walk through the neighborhood to see all the usual other walkers, and no hanging out in the backyard to look up at stars whose light was sent to us years ago.
I don’t think the light we can see was sent to us when dinosaurs were roaming the Earth.
We had purchased tickets online, with the customary and annoying convenience fee surcharge for something that couldn’t possibly be easier for the movie theater, and were excited to see a movie on the big screen.
Previews have always appealed to us, as has the satisfaction of seeing the entire movie from the start. When both of us were young, we found ourselves in movie theaters after the film began.
We’d sit in our seats and wait for the next showing, when we’d catch up to the point when we entered and, often with our respective families, head to the exits to piece together the narrative.
On a recent Sunday night, we drove through a packed parking lot. Clearly, the Barbenheimer phenomenon – the combination of hits “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” – has brought the crowds back to the theaters that somehow survived the pandemic.
With almost no line, we breezed through the entrance and got on the short line for popcorn. Ah, movie popcorn. Yes, it’s much more expensive than it needs to be, and yet, we splurged for it many times as we prepared to suspend disbelief and enter the altered and captivating reality of a movie.
The concession didn’t sell bottled water, which we could fill with any beverage of our choice. We reluctantly agreed to buy the expensive cup and added ice cold water to our movie-time meal.
The days of waiting in line for the free-for-all of finding the best middle seats are long gone. We walked up to our wide, comfortable seats. When we didn’t immediately find the recliner button, the woman to my wife’s right showed us where it was.
Back in the early days of our children’s lives, when we were incredibly sleep deprived, those seats would have been a welcome opportunity for a solid nap.
Not this time. We were locked in and ready for the film. As is our wont, we quickly finished the first bucket of popcorn before the previews. I raced back for a refill and returned just in time for the start of several coming attractions.
Most of those previews looked somewhere between awful and horrific. If those were the best scenes from coming films, it may be a while before we feel the urge to return to the world of overpriced popcorn and comfortable chairs.
So, after all this time, are you wondering what we saw?
Well, we got sucked into the Barbenheimer vortex, opting for the World War II film instead of the late 50’s iconic toy.
With gripping subject matter and extraordinary acting from a cast ready to personify critically important figures from a turbulent time in 20th century history, the movie was compelling.
I can see why it received rave reviews. As a film watcher – okay, well, as a former passionate devotee of the silver screen – I wasn’t completely moved by the broad story telling.
As a science writer, which is the other hat I wear with privilege regularly for these papers, I was hoping there had been a greater description about the discoveries Oppenheimer and his collaborators had to make to complete the Manhattan Project.
At one point during the movie, I realized that we were watching the film on the 78th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. The eery overlap brought home the complicated legacy of a talented scientist and effective leader.