Why I’m now way too scared to rewatch my favourite films

Luke Stevenson is one of the hosts of The Popcorn Muncher Podcast. He is only serious about Bee Movie.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer

When I was 17, I was a bit of a mopey twat.

Why is that a necessary piece of information to frontload this self-indulgent piece? Well, it was at that stage that I got into movies, many of which I loved, but now find myself unable to bring myself back to. I don’t know why I was mopey – though it was probably girls because I fitted into every teenage stereotype – but like most people in their formative years, I sought out movies that connected to those feelings. This is how I ended up with a favourite films list packed with coming of age movies about 20-somethings wearing items of clothing I would then go out and buy.

(500) Days of Summer, Garden State and Almost Famous were, at the time, high up on any favourite film list I was ever asked to share. I would latch on to any sad indie movie with all the vigour of someone trying to define themselves by the movies they watched.

However, a year ago, I rewatched (500) Days of Summer and found myself thrown into some form of existential crisis. Did I like it? Sure, its charming. But a lot of its quite questionable politics that felt so right when I was 17 – why shouldn’t I hold a woman who has done nothing wrong responsible for all of my problems? – now felt alien to our current world and to me, as a 20-something who, thankfully, has moved on from that kind of thinking.

It’s not just the iffy messaging in the movie that rings awkward today. You can excuse that politics if you really read more deeply into the film than it asks you to. You can also argue that it reflected the ideas of a different time, before arguments against its questionable ideas were readily available. Who knows how the male production staff would write the movie today, with the discourse around relationships rightly so much more two-sided? However, outside of that I think one thing that is important to remember in the reappraisal of movies during the current awokening is that, not only are movies reflections of their period, but our feelings about them are reflections of ourselves at that time.

It was with trepidation that I then went into rewatching Almost Famous, which I said was my favourite film of all time when we listed our top picks on the Popcorn Muncher Podcast. As much as I would now replace that film with Star Wars: A New Hope as my top choice, I was more comforted by this rewatch. Yes, the film is a male coming of age story and, yes, it doesn’t do its female characters much justice. But it’s still an excellent journey. However, there were plenty of bumps in the road. If you really listen, you start to realise that all of the groupies these 30-something band members are sleeping with are teenagers, which makes rooting for them much harder, because it is wrong, regardless of whether that was the common practice for 1970s rock bands.

Now, with those two favourites behind me, I stare down at Garden State – the mack daddy of coming-of-age, Manic Pixie Dream Girl stories with soft, indie soundtracks. This was the first of these films I indulged in, and it was gifted to me on Blu-ray over 18 months ago. Even with that temptation sat on my shelf, it has been four years since I last saw the movie. I feel more comforted by focusing on the memory of what this story meant to me at the time I first saw it, rather than trying to face it in the cold reality of 2018. Will I still like it? Will I reflect on my mopey twattyness and see the film for how ridiculous it is? Will I get another navel-gazey article out of it? The unknowns are too numerous and too great.

That’s the problem with movies you connect with emotionally. You change, and therefore so does your relationship to the movie.

This is only true of certain films, though. Others on my favourite movies list can be rewatched with gay abandon. Independence Day is still the most fun I’ll ever have watching a movie, Kick-Ass is still whip-smart and bloody brilliant, and A New Hope is still the greatest blockbuster of all time. There are movies you connect with because the quality suits your tastes, and you can attach emotion to that element – A New Hope is my first memory in a cinema and I spent one summer watching Independence Day on repeat – and there are movies in which their emotion attaches to yours, as with the films I have mentioned in this article.

Peter Sarsgaard, Natalie Portman and Zach Braff in Garden State
Peter Sarsgaard, Natalie Portman and Zach Braff in Garden State

Outside of absolute favourites, there are many movies people won’t watch again because of the fear of hating it on a second watch. Gravity is the best film I’ve ever seen in a cinema, but I won’t watch it again because I fear that watching it on a smaller screen will reduce the impact. The Fundamentals of Caring – a Netflix original I felt was my second favourite movie of 2016 – is a great comedy movie, but I won’t watch it again because the first time I saw it was in the aftermath of a personal tragedy. Will I still find the laughter in it now that I needed to find at that time?

Your movie tastes are a reflection of you. That much is obvious because taste is different. There are some Oscar-winning movies I’ve hated, some objectively brilliantly made movies that I haven’t liked and some average-to-poor movies I’ve unironically loved – remember that Independence Day is one of my favourite films of all time. But there’s a challenge in how that reflection of you evolves as you do.

I still feel like Monsters, Boy A, A New Hope, Independence Day, La La Land and Kick-Ass are movies that adequately reflect my movie tastes, and through them you can read inferences into what I’m like as a person. However, the movies that I used to hold up because I felt they helped define me, I’m not sure about anymore. Where does the fear to rewatch them come in? Is it because I don’t want to be made a fool of if I now think the film is stupid? Or is it because these movies are a snapshot of a life that’s no longer relevant to me, and I’m afraid of losing that connection to who I was?

Mainly though, it’s probably that I’d feel guilty if I realised Garden State was crap after forcing dozens of people to watch it over the years.

Are there any old favourite movies that you’ve discovered aren’t all that great on a rewatch? What are the movies you’re too scared to watch again? Let me know in the comments section.

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