Drive-In Movie: Social Distancing While Movie-going

One of the biggest problems on people’s minds today is undoubtedly the coronavirus. Even though numerous states across the country are electing to loosen their previous restrictions on social gatherings, many people remain afraid of catching the virus, and wish to avoid places and activities that could have a high risk of infection. One of those places is the movie theater. Before the outbreak of covid-19 ticket sales were already falling, and they’ve only gotten lower since. People have sought workarounds to this, mostly in the form of streaming new releases directly into their homes. Another potential solution, one that is less talked about, is going back to a more retro form of film screenings: the drive-in movie. I recently went to the Starlight Drive-In theater, both to see the new film Arkansas, and to see how safe the drive-in experience is for those afraid of contracting the coronavirus, and to compare the experience to that of a traditional movie theater.

Firstly, the drive-in movie theater is far safer than a regular movie theater in terms of risking exposure to the coronavirus. The only instance I had to interact with someone else was when I had to pay to enter. Beyond that, you could stay inside your car the entire time and have a perfectly enjoyable experience. There’s a restroom (obviously) and a snack bar, although the snack bar was closed at the time I went. Beyond those things you would never have to leave the safety or comfort of your car.

The movie itself, Arkansas, ended up being a very average and forgettable film. This is the directorial debut for Clark Duke, who also co-wrote the script. It stars Liam Hemsworth, Clark Duke, Eden Brolin, Vince Vaughn, and John Malkovich. As an initial release, Arkansas is a decent display of Duke’s directorial skills. The film has some interesting visuals that help the seedy, drug-runner setting of the film shine. Duke himself is quite entertaining as the character Swain, co-leading alongside Liam Hemsworth, who, while fine as Duke’s straight-man counterpart, ends up being not particularly interesting and fairly one-note. The biggest problem with the film would be the story. Without giving away spoilers, the story starts off tense, but gradually loses steam throughout the film, leading to a less than satisfying conclusion that makes the film’s main antagonist, played by Vince Vaughn, seem ultimately inept.

While the film was far from perfect and had problems with the plot, I wonder if I would have had a different reaction had I seen it in a more traditional theater. While the drive-in movie theater is certainly safer for those not wanting to risk exposure to the coronavirus, the actual movie experience itself was marred by things unique to the drive-in. For one thing, the screen I was watching the film on would occasionally be drowned out by another car’s headlights turning on. This was particularly problematic during scenes set in darker areas, at which point it was almost impossible to tell what was happening in the movie. The sound quality of the film will be entirely dependent on the stereo system of your car since the sound works by turning your radio to a specific station. People with cars with less than stellar stereos should be aware that the sound quality will simply not be as good as a movie theater’s. I also ran into the problem where I would be periodically distracted by the smell of marijuana coming from one of the other cars there. The rules of the Starlight Drive-In prohibited smoking, but that didn’t seem to stop people from smoking during the film. While I found smelling marijuana and seeing giant smoke clouds emerge from the cars near me funny, other people might find this distracting and potentially offensive to their sensibilities.

While not a perfect solution to trying to see a film while social distancing, the drive-in theater is a viable way to go out and enjoy a film while responsibly keeping away from others. The drive-in format is not nearly as pristine as a theater experience, but is a perfectly adequate way to see a film. I would recommend the drive-in theater not only as a solution to movie-going while social distancing, but also, if you’re willing to look past the aforementioned shortcomings, as a fun and unique way to see a film.

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