At Large

Portable Privacy

By Published On: September 1st, 2023

“It’s been quite a summer.” It’s an innocent enough line delivered by a total stranger, offered to pass a few moments while waiting for the barista to fulfil a request for a very large iced coffee. And, with brief reflection, the statement was quite true. Heat, humidity, raging thunderstorms, flooding … just the weather would justify the assessment.

Add in political intrigues, international conflicts, uniquely captivating tragedies, the economy, and a casual comment turns into a crushing statement about our current condition. This truly has been quite a summer – one that many would like to forget.

So, what to do? How did we manage to get through with all of this hanging over our heads like the Sword of Damocles?

We went to the movies.

A little cinema therapy

After summers of struggling with COVID restrictions and the residual apprehension from the pandemic, suddenly there seemed to be movies that we simply wanted to see in air-conditioned comfort on the giant screen. We needed a popcorn fix. We wanted to watch ten minutes of previews for films we’ll not bother to watch and then settle back as the lights dimmed and we were transported into a world of action, intrigue, fantasy, and fun.

Some of the offered “summer blockbusters” came and went with only minimal response. Producers aiming for the teenaged audience had to realize that entire generations are now connected to their phones and aren’t considering the full movie viewing experience. 

Then, it happened. 

Harrison Ford blasted onto our sensibility with yet another Indiana Jones epic replete with car chases, globe-trotting adventures, and time travel that defied any logic but entertained just the same.

Just as we recovered from that experience, Tom Cruise leapt back onto the big screen with a Mission Impossible film that included much-hyped stunts that defied imagination. Not only were there car chases, there was mass destruction – cars, motorcycles, submarines, trains, sidewalk cafes, and ancient stone walls. We rocketed through canals of Venice, we parachuted down towering cliffs of Helsetkopen mountain in Norway, and in a prescient view of our future, we experienced the mysteries of artificial intelligence gone mad.

With promise of a sequel that will be even more monumental, we rested for a week, then came face to face with two blockbuster films that could not possibly be more diametrically opposed. Barbie and Oppenheimer – the very odd couple – opened on the same day. Thousands of fantasy and grim reality film buffs decided that a double feature was in order and actually saw both films on the same day.

But, it’s just a doll

Reviews were overwhelming with critics amazed that Barbie, a film based on an oft-satirized doll, could possibly be such a compelling story. Those who found it easy enough to endure the three-hour length of Oppenheimer and were rewarded with a dramatic tour-de-force by the high-profile cast and director left the theater pleasantly exhausted.

So, what is the attraction of blockbuster movies? Is it merely the opportunity to stave off boredom and go sit in a dark theater for a few hours? Is it the need for an adrenaline rush or a few laughs, tamely provided in a comfortable theater seat?  

A recent piece in The New Yorker by Parul Sehgal may have a bit of insight.  “Before it is anything else, a story is a way we can speak to one another without necessarily being ourselves; that is its risk and relief, its portable privacy.”

It’s the story. (We could have written “It’s the story … stupid” but that would have been obnoxious.) And, it’s “portable privacy” – something that’s yours and yours, alone.

Most of us can recall a time in our recent history when the challenges bombarding us every day were stress-inducing, challenging, or even beyond comprehension. Certainly, the instantaneous nature of news reporting has had something to do with that phenomenon. Now, it seems, everyone with a cellular phone has become a videographer/photographer. Everyone with access to a computer has become a writer/reporter. How do we escape from information overload? How can we staunch the digital tsunami that continues to envelop us?  

Portable privacy. We settle into our seats, watch the screen explode with color, and listen as the speakers come alive with sound. Within seconds we are transported to another place and time and into a story that invites us to choose heroes and villains, succumb to the allure of fantasy, and simply enjoy the complex creation of creative minds.

Summer has been, since the triumphant arrival of Jaws in 1975, the season of blockbusters. For those who immerse themselves in the cycles of theatrical film release, we now have until Thanksgiving to wait for the next round of “important” films that will take us into and through the holiday season. In the meantime, through Labor Day and beyond, on screens nearby, the big films of the summer of ’23 continue to play, their stories continue to captivate, and you are cordially invited to become immersed in the wonders that await in your “portable privacy.”