COVID Confessions: Films have long helped us escape grim realities, and they’re doing it again

My mother was never the type of person who bought movies. In fact, she hated it. When I’d ask for a movie as a kid, she always made a certain facial expression.

She slightly furrowed her eyebrows, while giving half a smile, almost like she was mocking you. But to be fair, my dad constantly bought movies at flea markets and yard sales, so her reaction seemed appropriate. How could you want more when there’s already some in the house?

I remember when my mother, my aunt, my cousins and I watched “Frontera” with Michael Peña and Eva Longoria. Because of the language barrier between the family, the movie was in Spanish, but we had the subtitles in English to suit everyone.

Yet, in this memory, my mother escaped. While immersed in the world of the film, she also began to pick out certain English words from the subtitles. She isn’t fluent in English, but through the movie and how we had set it up, she was able to pick up on English words based on what she saw and heard in Spanish.

For several days, this memory played in my head repeatedly after drafting an assignment for my graduate course; I couldn’t remember the last time I had escaped into a film.

As dramatic as “escaped” sounds, American films were considered escapist films since the Great Depression. There are many ways to define escapist films, but essentially it means films that distract the viewer from real life.

The demand for escapist films skyrocketed in America during the Great Depression and World War II.

Working as the messenger when the pandemic hit, it drained me. I’d been reporting on COVID-19 news throughout an eight-hour shift, but the news kept coming. I couldn’t wake up without feeling completely exhausted.

Out of all the movies I decided to watch first during quarantine, I went with Bong Joon Ho’s “The Host;” it was the first movie I had seen after days in quarantine.

For those two hours, I remember feeling a sense of normalcy return. The last time I dedicated time to watch a movie with no distraction was when I watched “Emma” at the movie theater on March 6.

Thanks to the pandemic, it revealed my empty excuse of never having the time to watch the films on my watchlist; now, it’s the only thing that provides a safe haven as I confine myself in my bedroom, in the comfort of my home.

I think that’s why I couldn’t get the memory of my mother out of my head. If someone, who could care less about films, can escape, then anyone can — and it’s what we might need.

There’s a never-ending catalogue of films from all around the world; think of films as food and streaming sites as different restaurants. There’s something for everyone.

It’s a language and medium that is constantly changing. It’ll never leave you, literally. You can own the physical copy, click the play button on your phone, rent it digitally.

I dedicate time to watch a movie at night to distract my mind from the state of the world. I’ve been going through movies I watched when I was younger to movies that I’ve never seen.

We can’t fully look away, but we do deserve a break. An escape.