You can’t see the same movie twice

This is not an injunction to only watch new movies. It’s a reference to the old Heraclitus thing about the same man never being able to enter the same river twice: the river has changed and so has the man.

So it is with movies. You can watch the same movie but you won’t see the same movie. For one thing, you know how it ends. (That is, assuming you stayed awake through the entire film.)

Am I stating the obvious? Yes. But I do so in order to explain why I will watch a given movie more than once – sometimes many times. While it’s not true of every movie, some movies offer up something new with each viewing.

I know people who think it’s madness to watch a movie twice. In some ways, I agree with them. Some movies aren’t worth seeing twice. There just isn’t enough to them. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad movies, not worth watching. Many of them are, if only for the spectacle or humour or pacing. But once seen, they are quickly forgettable. It doesn’t invalidate the experience. It just means they aren’t memorable.

Some movies almost become entirely new movies when seen a second time. To take a rather extreme example, there is no way you can watch The Sixth Sense a second time and have the same experience. The first viewing is entirely dependent on not knowing the ending. The second time, when you know the end, it becomes a different experience. In part, you may watch with some detachment in order to see how you were set up for that ending. For me, part of watching The Sixth Sense more than once is to enjoy the atmosphere the movie creates. It’s a bit like a Polanski movie in the way mood is such an important element.

Of course, not every movie has such an ending. Others are much more about reaching an expected conclusion, as in a romantic comedy. You know how it will end. What makes it fun to watch is seeing how they get there (not to mention the performances).

The Philadelphia Story is a good example of that. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen the movie but I return to it again and again because it always makes me laugh, always makes me feel good, and always fascinates me by the exceptional performances of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn (individually and together).

Often, that is my reason for watching a movie two or more times. Something inside me wants to repeat the experience of that first viewing, even though I know it will never be the same. But in many cases, it’s darned close. (I love watching Legally Blonde for that reason. It continues to be delightful, although it had a surprise element the first time I saw it because I had low expectations and was completely taken off guard by its cleverness and charm.)

Some movies take on a nostalgic quality depending on how old they are and how old you are/were. Recently, I was showing a friend some of the DVDs in my collection and she was almost giggling with delight because she saw movies like Say Anything and Jerry Maguire. They were movies just old enough to be connected with her younger self, pre-marriage, pre-children, and were remembered as both good movies and as movies that held fond memories for her. (Sometimes people get a kick out of the hair and clothes of a particular period.)

I watch movies for a number of reasons and, usually, those reasons differ day to day because my mood is different from one day to another. Frankly, some days I just want to see a simplistic comedy or action film or spectacle kind of movie. Other days, I’m much more in the mood for something with a good deal more meat to it.

But to get back to the business of watching a movie more than once … There are any number of reasons for doing so, and movies (like us) change over time. No, not literally, not objectively. But we never see anything objectively. Everything we see is filtered through who and when we are, our experiences and moods. It is a subjective experience even though we may, sometimes, agree with one another about a film.

One last example … Years ago, probably around when it was first released, I watched and enjoyed Blade Runner. Not long ago, Blade Runner: The Final Cut was released, so I picked it up and watched it. I couldn’t tell you what the differences were with the first one, which I initially saw long ago. In many ways, it was like seeing a movie for the first time, though not really because I had a general idea of what the movie was about and had certain images planted in my head. Hell, I knew what a replicant was.

The point, however, is this: I absolutely loved it when I watched The Final Cut. That wasn’t long ago – maybe a few months? Anyway … I watched it again a day or two ago. And … it did nothing for me. I actually had some sense of anachronism – though a futuristic film, it seemed to have, if not an 80s look and feel, an 80s interpretation of what the future would be like.

Why did it play a bit flat for me this time? There could be a number of reasons. It might be as simple as, it was too soon after seeing it the first time (this latter, Final Cut, version). It might have been that I just wasn’t in the right mood for that kind of movie. Though playing flatly for me, I could still see all its strengths. It remains a remarkable movie. But I couldn’t surrender to it this time.

Though the same movie, it wasn’t the same movie. Both I and the film had changed.


My review of Jerry Maguire, linked above, is pretty lame. I’ve watched the movie a few times since, including just the other day, so I hope to update or replace that review with something a bit more … let’s say, substantial.)

3 Responses

  1. Craig Swayze says:

    Hi Bill,
    How would you compare watching a movie(or ‘film’) to looking at a painting in an art gallery? Can not the movie be the same experience as the viewing of the painting except that it is a moving, rather than static, image?


  2. Yonathan Zarkovian says:

    Good post.
    I enjoy watching The Dark Knight over and over again. I discover new amazing (and tiny) details each and every time I watch it.

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