Day 8: Movies in the Park

The first and only time I’ve seen The Matrix was at a friend’s lake cabin the summer after my freshman year of high school. A group of us sprawled out on a set of bunk beds and watched this technologically impressive movie on a 14-inch tube television in the middle of the day.

I remember, when it was finished, being confused about the movie’s message, but also in awe because I knew even then, at a mere 16 years old, it was an important movie.

Over the years, I’ve quoted its iconic lines (“I know kung fu”), referenced it in scavenger hunt clues (“follow the white rabbit”), and laughed at its parodies, patting myself on the back for having seen the movie and therefore able to understand the joke. But did I ever think to sit down and watch it again? No.

Now, thanks to Downtown GR (and this 30 days of GR project, I suppose), that is no longer true. On Friday night, there was a free outdoor showing of the movie at Ah-Nab-Awen Park (the same location as Jazz in the Park), and since I hadn’t yet attended a “Movie in the Park” event, I decided to give it a try.


Downtown GR is an organization committed to supporting the city of Grand Rapids. Every year, they contribute more and more free events and amenities for the people of the city to enjoy. It’s an organization that essentially makes Grand Rapids “sparkle” by making it more beautiful, more approachable, more playful for everyone.

This is the third year for Movies in the Park. They host a movie every two weeks free of charge for anyone who wants to attend. They often have pre-movie entertainment that’s related to the feature presentation; in this case, they had kung fu demonstrations and a costume contest. Food trucks, still a novelty practice in Grand Rapids, line up in the grass offering all sorts of delicious movie snacks.


Husband and I showed up to the park around 8pm. Despite the drizzling rain and the movie not starting for another hour, the lawn was already crowded. We planted some lawn chairs in an empty square of grass and made ourselves comfortable.

Lucky for us, the rain eventually cleared out. With the help of the clouds, it soon became dark enough for the movie to start. Husband uncapped some bottles of beer and I got out the popcorn we brought with us as the movie began.

Anytime I watch a movie anywhere other than the couch, it feels more festive. Going to the theater or watching a movie at a drive-in often feels like a special occasion. And coming downtown on a Friday evening with a bunch of strangers to watch a movie together outside was no exception. The breeze blowing gently, bats flying overhead, the river rushing next to us, the lights of the city twinkling in my peripheral vision were all sensations I haven't experienced in another movie environment. It added an extra layer of fun and whimsy onto the movie-watching experience.


But I think what makes Movies in the Park even more unique is that the movies they select to show come with a side of nostalgia.

None of the movies are new; most of the movies are iconic. Other showings this year were Dirty Dancing, Dazed and Confused, E.T., and Hook. The last showing, happening in two weeks, is Ghostbusters. People want to watch these movies over and over again. They want to remember the first time they saw them; they want to remember the past. And when we watch movies like that together in a unique place, we revisit who we were then and we make new memories to think back on in the future.

When Neo bent himself backwards and dodged bullets, there was uncontrollable cheering and clapping. We all knew it was coming and we anticipated that iconic moment. We rejoiced that we could watch it happen again together.

Now when I think about The Matrix, when I quote it or reference it, I may still remember my 16-year-old self on the bunkbeds at my friend's cabin, but I'll definitely remember my 31-year-old self sitting in the park enjoying the film with my fellow Grand Rapidians.

For more information about Movies in the Park, visit their website