Mar 5, 2021 | LIFE | By Andrew Rodden | Illustration by Jubilee Rivera-Hernandez

And just like that, movie theaters are open again in Colorado, where I was able to watch Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” (2020) this past weekend and Chloe Zhao’s newest movie, “Nomadland” (2020), the Tuesday prior. On that Tuesday (Feb. 23, 2021,) it had been exactly a year (on Feb. 23, 2020) since I had last been in a movie theater. 

In case you were wondering what it’s like, theaters are only operating at a reduced capacity and folks must wear masks at all times. Unless, of course, they’re enjoying food they bought at the theater, in which case patrons can remove their masks to eat and drink.

Therefore, audience members are essentially permitted to go the whole film without wearing a mask, so long as they’re eating $20 popcorn. For better or for worse, there isn’t much that’s different about the 2021 movie theater experience. 

“Minari” is set in 1980s Arkansas, opening with David Yi (Alan Kim) and his family moving into their new house: a trailer home in the middle of nowhere. David’s father, Jacob (Steven Yeun), has decided to pursue the American dream, leaving meager earnings in California for the hope to start a family farm and sell Korean produce.

David’s mother, Monica (Han Ye-Ri), understandably has her doubts about this risky maneuver, wrestling the needs of her two children and aging mother in addition to Jacob’s ambition. Their quest for a better life proves to be difficult for the Yi family, forcing them through tornado scares, racism of the rural American South, and days without fresh water. It’s a tough life for the Yi family, but “Minari” matches the immense hardship with immense beauty. 

It is a gentle and effortless film, while maintaining precision in its depiction of country life. This gentle effortlessness is exhibited by each actors’ performance, massively contributing to the richness of each character. Their interactions and dialogue provide a beautiful glimpse into a life of hard work and hot summer days. Chung portrays the natural world of Arkansas with entrancing close ups of soil and foliage, making the dirt Jacob works an essential character of the film. 

The narrative structure of “Minari” is admittedly stale, heavily relying on convention, and also takes an obvious ending strategy for the film’s finale. This marks an important distinction between narrative structure and narrative itself, which Chung effectively utilizes to guide the viewer through a countryside life of hardship and folksy simplicity. 

A “pandemic movie theater” is a bizarre and dystopian oxymoron, a “normal” place that is now anything but. While I am elated to have watched a movie in an actual theater, it’s tough to shake the looming weirdness. However, as one of the best new movies to watch in a movie theater, “Minari” offers solace from the weird circumstances of our current world. It’s a relief to finally have a movie that is more than “just something new” to watch. 

“Minari” is available to rent online and is screening (in-person) at select theaters. 

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