I’ve met people who hate seeing a movie or TV show twice. “What’s the point?” they ask. “I know what is going to happen.” They are in the distinct minority however. For most of us, knowing what is going to happen is one of the elements we find so comforting. In an uncertain world, it’s nice not to stress about an outcome, even a bad one. The devil you know, and all that: in the case of some horror films that might be literal. Kids especially like the familiar as parents well know when their DVD player starts spinning Annie for the 103rd time.
Back in the Paleoelectronic days of my youth there were no consumer video players. Videotape machines did exist, but they were large costly devices used by broadcasters. They were so expensive that for the first decade of commercial broadcasting in the US, most TV shows were broadcast live to spare the expense of taping ahead of time. Yet, there were still opportunities then to rewatch favorite movies at home. Independent TV stations, such as WOR in New York, commonly played the same movie every day for a week. If it was something boy-friendly such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Forbidden Planet, or King Kong, you can be sure I watched it (if possible) every one of those days. To this day I can speak the dialogue along with the characters in all those movies.
Our patience for such repetition fades as we age. I don’t think I could force myself to watch the same film every day for a week nowadays without the promise of a big cash prize for doing so, but there are still movies I like to revisit – not every day but from time to time – be they classics like The Philadelphia Story and Gilda or recent guilty pleasures such as Scott Pilgrim vs, the World. That’s what DVD shelves (and Netflix) are for.
Why do we enjoy the repetition beyond the simple comfort of knowing who or what is scratching on the other side of that door? Part of it – at least as adults – is nostalgia. A particular film connects us to our past in some way. Maybe it reminds us of the time in our lives when we first saw it or maybe (especially in recent flicks) some theme in the film evokes something from our past. The same can be said of favorite songs. That’s why on average 54 minutes out of every hour we listen to music are dedicated to familiar songs. However, playing an oldie on the stereo is just a 3 minute commitment instead of a 2 or 3 hour one, which is why we do it more readily.
According to Cristel Antonia Russell and Sidney Levy (rf. The Temporal and Focal Dynamics of Volitional Reconsumption: A Phenomenological Investigation of Repeated Hedonic Experiences – with an intimidating title like that they must be onto something), in addition to nostalgia and the joy of the familiar some movies have therapeutic effects. We find something in them that helps us work through something in our own lives.
Then again maybe we just like the movie. We can’t always give reasons for our affections – and not just (alas) for movies. Now that I think of it, it has been too long since I last watched The Owl and the Pussycat (1970) for every single one of the reasons (and nonreasons) above. Time to crack open the DVD case and do it again.
The Beach Boys - Do It Again