An inherently funny word, movie. We have this new invention by which pictures are made to move, moving pictures we call it, but that's a little long and lacks the catchiness so important when trying to sell the public on innovation and so overtime the phrase shortens to the brilliantly playful 'movie.' But playful isn't always what we want, especially when the 'we' refers to critics whose careers depend on extolling the potential for movies as Art with a capital A.
There are alternatives. Film sounds suitably portentous but becomes more inaccurate day by day. Cinema is best, burying its functional equivalence to 'movie' under the academic camouflage of Greek (kinema meaning movement). The only problem being that the word cinema, while ostensibly referring to the movies themselves, has rather inextricably come to refer to the theaters that show the movies. In fact, the whole business of movies shows a certain confusion in this regard. Cinema is the biggest offender but the entire language suffers a general vagueness when it comes to separating the film, if you'll excuse the archaism, from its customary viewing area. The reason why is plain after a little thought. In days gone by the theater and the film truly were inseparable. Unlike music or plays the only way that a moving picture could be experienced was inside a darkened room equipped with the host of technical requirements. There was only one way to see a movie and that was to go to the movies. What is remarkable is how this connection has not yet passed out of consciousness. Even in todays world of home video the cinema and its theater remain incredibly linked.
So why do movie theaters still exist? What is the attraction that brings people out of their homes, through traffic, past the prohibitively expensive gate and into the seats? What does the theater give? The answer is threefold: It produces a trance like experience, allowing us to momentarily divorce ourselves from the innumerable distractions normally filling our lives. It bestows a communal experience, letting us share experience of emotions with another group of humans, even though communication during the experience is heavily discouraged. Finally, it offers people the chance to give their money in service of something they believe in. This last may seem ridiculous but I could point to numerous article arguing that we ought to lend our support, through ticket sales, toward one kind of filmmaking or another. That there is a market for these articles proves that monetary sacrifice toward a higher goal is a factor, though probably a minor one, behind ticket sales. Trance, community, and sacrifice. What do these three things add up to? Well, when one consider them functionally it becomes obvious what niche movie theaters fill in our culture. They're churches. Churches to cinema, the great religion of our day.
What is a religion other than a set of stories that serve to give our lives meaning, provide succor in times of need, and create a sense of community between people who would otherwise have nothing in common? It's possible that Star Wars alone serves these functions for more people than many major religions. Even the way the popularity of movies has spread across the globe mirrors that of religion, diffusing into foreign places through the building of churches coupled with aggressive advertising. All backed by a staggering amount of money in the hopes of making even more money. Though, if criticized on that front they can always say that while it's true the new markets will make them an ungodly amount of money, the true purpose is to spread the joy of what they sell. Today they're even undergoing something of a Reformation thanks to the revolutionary technology of streaming services which, like the printing press of the 15th century, has been slowly but surely eroding the importance of churches and the traditional, ecclesiastical power structures behind them.