I’ve never been much of a re-watch guy. I always preferred the risk/reward proposition of a new film or show, the untapped potential, the raw possibility that this untrod journey may be one of my favorite journeys of all time. I anticipated meeting new characters, some which I may love, some which I may hate, and empathizing with a new set of conflicts and groups of people.
But lately, I have found myself hitting play, not on new watches with infinite possibilities, but old shows and movies I have loved for a while. The one’s whose characters are as familiar as old friends, whose problems seem complex yet understandable, whose surprises are rooted in understanding rather than discovery.
I like this new phase. Its less aggressive. I am not consuming as much as viewing. I feel like a trained eye turned to a familiar task, rather than a novice learning a new trade. But I do wonder why I shifted to this new mode, why I am more comfortable on my third re-watch of The Sopranos, my fourth re-watch of Succession or my ‘enth’ re-watch of Mad Max: Fury Road or Vice or Fight Club.
I know that one reason is because I have discovered that they still surprise me. When I was younger, I never understood re-watching a story you’d already seen. I assumed the surprises were gone, that the journey would somehow be diminished because I knew the destination. But this isn’t the case. I know what awaits Tony Soprano at the end of the sixth season. And far from diminishing the journey I have become a more observant viewer, understanding decisions in the light of their fatality as opposed to some notion of singularity. And didn’t I always know what lay at the end of these great stories? Hasn’t it always been about how we get there?
I did not expect how often the twists and turns of a show or movie I have already seen would still remain hidden to me around an unseen corner. My memory is not as good as I thought, or maybe a good show will always make a viewer suspend their disbelief just enough to disconnect them from their knowledge and reality in order to surprise and delight, where Pussy’s death still hurts, where Logan’s manipulations still rankle, where MacKay’s jokes still have the same zing.
I now look forward to my favorite moments and lines. Like in Mad Max: Fury Road, when everyone is working on a dying Furiosa, and Tom Hardy mumbles, in the most Tom Hardy of lines, “Max… my name’s Max…” or for the most Baltimore of lines whenever Stringer Bell is on screen, or when that single, uncovered bulb, dangling from the ceiling, illuminates Tyler Durden as he reads the rules of Fight Club. These aren’t moments that are experienced once. Great moments can be returned to time and time again.
And they have an uncanny ability to take you back. Every time I watch Django Unchained, I remember going to the theater with my brother on Christmas Day (I think it was his first Tarantino believe it or not). I remember a woman sitting down next to me and pretending to drink from my soda (the weirdest introduction I have ever received), and her leaning over to me to tell me “That’s the director” as Tarantino lit up the screen with his brutal Australian? accent. And when I watch Avatar (and when people dog it on Twitter) I remember, on opening night in a packed theater, those tiny droplets of water combining into one, seemingly right in front of me, during my first 3D feature film experience. These moments are like the warm covers of an old bed after a long day.
And the weight of experiences and expectations and understanding coupled with new revelations fit like a favorite pair of jeans. They don’t need any breaking in, there will be no unpleasant chafing, I know they fit just right.
In a media age where I constantly feel behind on the new releases of TV shows and movies. I have taken a step back. I have stopped trying to keep up. It was, quite frankly, stressing me out. I have started watching what I want. I am just surprised that what I want is that which is familiar.
Maybe it’s a sign of a year where everyone wishes it was a different one. Or a symptom of growing just a bit older and more boring. But damnit, I love it.
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