On the second floor of the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, New Mexico, I first saw “Taos Drive-In Theater,” a watercolor print by Ken Price, one of a slew of contemporary artists who moved from Los Angeles to Taos in the 1970s. In the background is a familiar Taos desert evening — a sky teeming with dark blues and hazy pinks, mountains glowing red in the distance, a field of dry shrubs that look like tiny fires. There are no people in the image, only rows of nearly identical cartoon cars, all oriented towards a large movie screen on which a bare-shouldered woman poses seductively. The more I looked at the print, the more I felt certain that one of the shrub-shaped fires was going to send the whole drive-in up in flames. The image unnerved me, and I became set on having my own copy of the piece, but I couldn’t find any online for less than several hundred dollars. 

Taos is a small town in northern New Mexico sandwiched by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on one side and the Rio Grande on the other. Everything there is desert brush and cracked earth and oceans of ponderosa pine dotted with short adobe houses. If you drive 15 minutes out of town, you’ll likely lose cell signal. If you don’t look back, it’s easy to pretend that there was never a town at all.

Taos has long been known as an artists’ colony, attracting well-known names like Ansel Adams, D. H. Lawrence, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Artists still flock there today to tap into an energy, the Taos Hum as some call it, that is said to animate the Taos airwaves. I, however, was not in Taos this summer for the Hum. I was there to live and work for eight weeks, and I was alone. 

The first time I went to the movies in Taos, it was a Friday night. I was going to see “The Little Mermaid” — not because it was a movie I had any particular desire to see, but rather because I desperately needed something to do, and it was probably the most interesting thing playing at the time. This decision came at the heels of almost two weeks of constant solitude during which my human contact started and ended with my work day.

As I pulled into the parking lot of Storyteller Cinema 7 at around 7 p.m., 20 minutes in advance of the film’s start time, I was surprised to find the parking lot full. I was even more shocked to discover a ticket line inside the theater and an even longer line to buy concessions. “The theater is bumping as god intended,” I texted a friend as I waited to buy Sour Patch Kids and a cherry Icee. Finally, 10 minutes after the film started, I slipped into one of the only remaining seats at the front of the theater. Despite finding myself sitting so close to the screen I could see the minutiae of every CGI scale on that talking fish, I was pleased — thrilled, even.

No matter what was playing, the theater was the place to be on a Friday night; it was always full. In a town where I had no friends, knew practically no one, I needn’t do more than sit in the dark for a few hours to feel like I was part of a community, connected to the people around me. This realization kicked off what I’ve come to call my summer of film kismet. I started going to the movies constantly.

I was walking out of the supermarket a few weeks later when I noticed a familiar name on the store’s bulletin board: The Coolidge Corner Theatre. During the roughly three weeks I spend at home in Boston every year, I go to the Coolidge almost every other day. 2,000 miles away, Science on Screen, a Coolidge program that pairs a science-related film with a talk from a STEM professional, was doing a showing of “Moulin Rouge” at the Taos Center for the Arts and was bringing in a local mixologist to talk about the science behind absinthe. I don’t particularly like “Moulin Rouge,” but this coincidence felt intimately personal to me. It was as if a lifeline of film reel had dropped down from the sky, transporting me from the mountain desert to the worn theater seats of home. Once again, I sat in the dark, this time feeling comforted by the melodramatics of Satine’s slow death.

Though it seems like many Taoeseños were going to the movies just for the love of the game, if you will, I was not. When Storyteller wasn’t showing “Asteroid City” or “Past Lives,” I made the hour and a half trek to the Violet Crown Cinema in the Santa Fe Railyard Park. This may seem excessive, but you have to understand that thinking about these movies, planning my journeys to see them, and allowing myself to be swept up in the ensuing Twitter discourse gave shape to my otherwise almost oppressively neutral day to day life. 

Whenever the happy film accidents that tied my summer together began to lull, I created them for myself. I admitted to one of my friends that, “I think I’m getting a little bit too weird about all of this,” when I explained my genuine frustration at not being able to see “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” on the same day because my parents were coming to visit on their release date. I sounded crazy, and I knew it.

Although my Barbenheimer plans were thwarted, my parents generously agreed to go see “Oppenheimer” with me. The theater was entirely sold out, and I watched an older couple get in a fight with a group of teenage boys in cowboy hats who had commandeered an entire row. There was a thrum of excitement, an anticipatory nervousness thanks to our proximity to the place where it really happened. Los Alamos was no mystical site out in the middle of nowhere; I drove by the Los Alamos exit every time I went to Santa Fe. I remember feeling unreasonably lucky to be somehow adjacent to such an interesting moment in contemporary film history.

On my last night in Taos, I emceed a concert in Kit Carson Park. The organizers handed me a long list of sponsors that I didn’t bother to read in advance. The flower shop, the electrician, the brunch spot, Los Alamos National Laboratories… My co-host joked that everyone should go see “Oppenheimer.”

Weeks after my visit to the Harwood, I was in Arroyo Seco, a village about 15 minutes outside of town. As I was about to drive home, I noticed a poster outside of a gallery advertising Price’s work. I ran inside to ask if they had any copies of “Taos Drive-In Theater” for sale. From the back of the store, they produced a poster for the 2001 Taos Talking Picture Festival, a local film festival that ended in 2003. Price originally made the watercolor for the festival poster, they explained. This was one of their last few copies. 

In absence of real human drama to animate my life, I was certainly predisposed to notice and assign meaning to these film-related coincidences, and I’ve already admitted to contriving some of them myself. Still, when I was offered the poster, I took it as a confirmation that the film narrative tying my summer together was not entirely in my head. After all, what was I if not one of the unseen people in a row of anonymous cars, watching a movie and trying to see through wildfire smoke in the distance? I looked at the poster and felt that I was seeing a portrait of my summer.

Call it a coping mechanism for two months of solitude if you want; I’ll call it the same. I have always loved film, but I only realized this summer that it was something you can live on too.

Idone Rhodes is a junior in Pierson majoring in English and Film and Media Studies. She will be writing a regular film column for WKND. Rhodes was formerly a managing editor of the Yale Daily News Magazine.