(kanopy/Prime/VOD)? With the recent handwringing about theaters potentially going out of business due to the pandemic, a lot of folks focus on the communal experience of shared spectacle and of whiplash moments, but few discuss how the darkness of theaters also allow us to nakedly indulge in other emotions with strangers.

Case in point: THE FAREWELL. (Warning, some small spoilers ahead, but really, they aren’t.) I watched it solo on a balmy Friday night, late in July 2019. There was a fairly sizable crowd and, while we laughed and tensed up at every well-crafted moment, it was the end — and I don’t mean the epilogue — that brought the entire room to tears. As the taxi drove away, everyone was audibly sobbing, men and women, myself included. (Although, I admit, I’m a soft touch when it comes to tears.)

Obviously, we were saddened for Billi, for her grandma, for the front that the family felt forced to put up, their regret at not being able to be truthful and have proper closure. However, as the camera revealed the rest of the family inhabiting the cab, it felt like we were also crying for those around us who had lost family, who knew what it was like to experience unreconciled grief. The theater became a shared funereal experience, one that simply wouldn’t have happened in a brightly lit room with a giant LCD screen.

While the film’s epilogue staunched the tears a bit, there remained a somber feeling in the air as we numbly walked towards the exit, barely looking at one another, perhaps a bit embarrassed, perhaps a bit raw. It’s these sort of experiences I’ve missed the most during the pandemic, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.