Rewind: What Makes a Movie Re-Watchable?

My son hates the fact that I never want to watch new movies or TV shows. He’s almost seventeen, and just beginning to learn about the incredibly wide world of music and film that exists out there – and relishing in the exploration of that world. From nu metal to jazz, and old classic films to brand new TV shows like The Witcher, he’s a devourer of entertainment (and a creator, too, inspired by what he hears and sees). I love to see that in him, but for myself … I feel like I’m too old to learn new tricks. I don’t actually believe that to be the case, but there’s something about the comfort of rewatching a beloved movie or TV show that deeply appeals to me.

My wife is more in line with my son – always on the lookout for new shows and movies to watch. But every once in a while, even she will want to rewatch something (this is rare), and it makes me wonder – outside of my own personal experience, what actually makes a movie or show worth rewatching? After all, the novelty of the first experience won’t be there, so why watch it a second – or third, or fourth – time at all?

I think there are a few elements to explore here, so I’ll lay them out below.

Emotional Connection

I think – for me, at least – one of the strongest reasons to re-watch something is if there’s a deep emotional connection between the content and the viewer. This could be an empathetic connection, of course – you understand innately what the characters are going through – or it could be a feeling that the movie inspires in you, but emotion is one of the core reasons to consume entertainment at all, and if the media triggers an emotional response in you, then you’re likely to want to re-experience that same emotion again (assuming it wasn’t a deeply negative or triggering emotion).

I remember the first time(s) I watched what is perhaps my favorite single film of all time: The Crow. It’s cheesy, full of bad lines and bad acting, but at the same time there’s a rawness to the characters and the story that connected with me deeply at that time of my life, being as I was severely depressed. Many moments within the movie made me literally cry, and the ability to feel anything, never mind the ability to feel a deep sadness that was inspired from deep within me, was incredible. I probably watched that movie once a day for a month.

Another movie that connected with me at an important developmental time in my life is Donnie Darko; also a movie I could re-watch any time, I felt very connected to the main character’s confusion, nihilistic depression, and deepening instability as the movie progresses. Never mind that the movie is also deeply confusing in and of itself (an element I’ll address momentarily).

Re-watching these movies today allows me to revisit and relive those emotions from when I first watched them, and for me, at least – being as I am typically very emotionally reserved – that’s a good thing.

Complexity & World-Building

Sometimes you come across a movie or TV show (often based on a book, being more capable of winding complexity than film in general) that is so deep in its lore, world-building and complexity, that you simply can’t take it all in in one viewing. This could be anything from tiny references to much larger elements through to seemingly-innocuous plot elements that turn out to be incredibly important later on, but movies like this typically require multiple viewings to truly appreciate the depth of storytelling that went into them.

Perhaps the best example of deep lore and world-building I can think of is my old staple, The Lord of the Rings. If The Crow is my favorite single movie, The Lord of the Rings is hands-down my favorite trilogy, ever. Much of this has to do with the epic grandeur of both the scenery, the story, and Howard Shore’s incredible score, but a larger part of it has to do with Peter Jackson’s intense attention to detail, and faithfulness to Tolkien’s original books. From moments such as Théoden crying “Forth Eorlingas!” – a phrase that, without context, is unintelligible and meaningless – to the importance of pipe-weed threaded through the entire trilogy, there are references, nods and entire points lifted straight from the book that, to the average viewer, make little to no sense without having read the books in the first place.

Then there are movies that are complex and intricate in their plot, to the point where it is almost impossible to know what to pay attention to during the first viewing. Time travel movies are often my favorite example of this, and a great example of this genre that to this day I struggle to grasp in its entirely (I’ve actually only seen it once) is Predestination, starring Ethan Hawke. An absolutely bonkers tale of pre-empting crimes through a time-traveling police agency, it slowly unravels a mystery that includes insane paradoxes, whilst still somehow at the end of it all seeming to make sense (can someone be their own mother and father?). I really want to watch this movie again, just to see the hints and details that I would have missed the first time around.

Nostalgia & Comfort

Lastly (for tonight), there are movies whose merits are in nothing more than the comfort of a well-worn sweater, or a favorite stuffed animal: simple nostalgia, and the comfort of the familiar. These movies are not always high art, nor revered as great bouts of acting or storytelling, but hold a special place in our hearts as individuals, either because of the associations we make with when we first came across them, or even just because, for some reason, we find them deeply relatable.

One of my favorite movies to watch over and over again, to the point where I can probably reiterate almost every line in the film, is Wayne’s World. This Mike Myers vehicle is a virtually plot-less comedy romp through 90s alternative rock culture, and whilst the film has virtually no artistic merit whatsoever, I simply adore it. It no longer makes me laugh out loud (the comedy is too expected after the thousandth viewing), but still manages to draw a smile and Wayne and Garth’s overgrown childish antics. The appearance of an in-his-heyday Alice Cooper is merely an added bonus.

What are your favorite movies to watch again and again? Are you the kind of person who doesn’t like to watch something twice, or are there films or TV shows that you could watch endlessly without getting bored? Let me know in the comments!

Tales of Despair: The Darkness of Crows

A young man and a woman live, poor, in the slums of Detroit, deeply and madly in love with each other. They harbor a love of the gothic and the dark, and they plan to wed on Halloween, October 31.

The eve of their vows, there is an attack: their apartment broken into, she is raped, beaten and stabbed. He walks in – desperate, he cries out for her, and she for him. Moments later, he is executed before her eyes. Later, under the blinding glare of flashing blue and red, she dies. The girl she cared for and the cop who found her look at each other, and in a moment, their lives are forever changed.

So begins The Crow, the 1994 film that changed the lives of goth kids around the world, and ended the life of Brandon Lee. I was one of those goth kids, and I first saw The Crow in the bitterest depths of my depression, when I believed all hope had gone. I watched it every night for a month, and shed tears each and every time. There are some, I’m sure, that will see this film as little more than the comic book-inspired action movie that it claims to be, but for me there has always been – and will always be – a far greater depth.

Eric Draven, murdered in cold blood before his beloved’s eyes, is raised from the grave one year later by a solitary crow, his strength and guide in his resurrected afterlife. He has returned, and seeks but one thing: retribution for the tragedy wrought upon his fiancée. One by one, he hunts down the four men who ended their lives, and returns their favor to them.

All the while, Sarah, daughter of a drug-addicted prostitute, has learned to live, and rely, on her own, seldom seeing her mother other than for money for food. Her only companion is the defeated and washed-out cop, Albrecht. Gradually, she comes to know of Eric’s return, and seeks him in the ruins of their old apartment. Though they meet, their friendship cannot be rekindled – he is not living.

There is a tone of utter despair to this film, complete futility; even as he takes revenge upon the monsters that destroyed his life, Eric knows it serves little purpose, for the past cannot be changed. In returning, he has brought nothing but hurt to all those around him, inspiring hope in Sarah and then equally crushing it. From the outset, we know that, even should he succeed, he has still lost: his life remains forever gone, and his beloved forever dead.

There is, naturally, a final dramatic battle between good and evil, ending with the beautifully gruesome death of “Top Dollar” atop a ruined cathedral, and the inspiration of hope with the redemption of Sarah’s mother and the reunion between Eric and his long-lost, ghostly Shelley. The most touching scene for me, however, is the meeting between Eric and Albrecht, in Albrecht’s apartment late at night. Albrecht lived Shelley’s dying moments, and through his eyes Eric lives it also. In a touch, every hour of pain and torment fills Eric’s mind, and he recoils, aghast.

What touches me most about this scene, however (I’m tearing up just writing about it!) is what we learn about Albrecht. Against his career, against his home life, against everything he held dear, he remained with this dying girl, this complete stranger, staying by her side and with her hand, until she died. Knowing it was inevitable.

This movie is infused with darkness and despair, gothic tragedy and loss, and yet holds a human compassion beyond many that I have seen before or since. It was everything I needed, and the tears I shed were a sweet, sweet relief.

It is yet a further, well-known tragic addition to this film that Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee and Linda Lee Cadwell, died whilst filming when real bullets were substituted for blanks. As such, the film has become as much a eulogy to this bright and emerging actor as it is a piece of dark, gothic cult art. They say no parent should bury their child, and this film – a piece of trite entertainment, comparatively – proved the most terrible loss a person could ever bear.

R.I.P. Brandon Lee
1965 – 1993