Try to think of the most recent film you’ve seen, but only for the first time, and your impression of it. Did you feel lost at times? Were you unimpressed by seemingly mundane scenes? Did you wonder what all the hype was about? If your answer is yes to all of the above, my advice is that you should watch it again.
I’m not afraid to admit that there are some madly acclaimed films that left me feeling like I was missing something, and have yet to view again, while How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, which I’ve seen multiple times, somehow makes me feel cinematically enriched. That’s not just part of what distinguishes cinema as an artistic medium, but it’s a prime example of why multiple viewings can be necessary to appreciate a film’s merit, however uncomplicated it may seem at first glance. Albeit, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days hardly reveals an emotionally or narratively complex work with more than one viewing, but my point is nevertheless relevant here.
Take a film I reviewed only a few months ago, Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered, which I ripped to shreds. I hated that film, and still do. But some people swear by it and I respect that, however impulsively I begrudge the sentiment. Once again, that subjectivity is what constitutes art, even if it pains me to use the word so much as in the same paragraph as Freddy Got Fingered.
While it may initially seem counterproductive to my argument, there is likely no hope I will ever watch that film again considering I found it to be irredeemable trash, but sometimes you just know a film isn’t for you, and other times all it takes is a second viewing to really appreciate a film’s subjective value. People having watched Freddy Got Fingered more than once can be the only possible reason for its recent critical re-evaluation in some respected film circles.
Second viewings operate, I believe, on two levels. The first, simple as it may initially seem, is that you might just enjoy it more the second time around. There could have been an emotionally traumatic event in the film that was distracting at first, but upon your second viewing find it far less distressful because you knew what to expect, and perhaps pick up on the subtle nuances you had missed before. Or maybe you’re watching it at a different stage of your life and can better relate to the themes at hand. Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman ticks both these boxes for me, as I didn’t fully grasp the grand scope of the writer/director’s intentions at the time, and only came to appreciate its true brilliance upon a second viewing a few years later. There are countless potential reasons for liking a film more the second time around, this is just one example.
Of course, the risk here is that it can go both ways. You could find yourself rewatching a film you previously enjoyed and wonder just what the hell you were thinking before. The Wayans brothers’ Hot Chicks was that film for me, now let’s never speak of it again.
Moving on, the second level on which second viewings operate is context. It’s less flexible than the first level, as it boils down to being loaded with the narrative beats of a film and finding new meaning in the scenes that previously made you wonder ‘just what was the point of that?’ Some of my favourite films, such as David Lynch’s magnum opus Mulholland Drive and Todd Phillips’ career-defining Joker, are done little justice with just one viewing. They don’t just deserve your time, but demand it, and it’s these types of films that I love and appreciate the most.
I have written more about Mulholland Drive than any other film, and every time I watch it, I uncover something new. Meanwhile Joker is the very film that inspired me to write this piece, as I regard it as a masterful adaptation steeped in modern relevance despite its ‘80s setting, yet response to the film has been undeservedly mixed. If I were to speculate, I would say that come critics simply dismissed it as a pseudo art project, with some fearing what it may incite rather than observing what it unveils. Of course, it’s never going to be for everybody either, regardless of how many times they watch it, but I urge those unmoved by the picture on their first viewing to at least try it once more.
So go ahead, give that film you’re unsure of a second go. It could be an unrewarding endeavour that confirms your initial misgiving, yes, but it could also reveal a film you grossly underestimated on first viewing, and the potential for that alone is worth the price of readmission.