Upon Second Viewing

Upon Second Viewing

I believe that most movies that are worth watching more than once are almost always better the second time around. With many of these movies, I think it is oftentimes necessary to watch them a second time to fully appreciate them. Here’s why.

Expectations

Like it or not, we all go into a movie expecting something from it. This doesn’t have to be how good or bad the movie is; it can be something as simple as thinking the plot would go a certain way or expecting a totally different tone from the film. The fact of the matter is these expectations stick with us as we watch, and even if the movie is excellent, we can still feel slightly put-off that things didn’t go the way we thought they would.

Kaneda in Akira | © 1988 Toho

This is exactly what happened to me when I watched the Japanese animated classic Akira for the first time. I went into the movie not knowing anything about it apart from it having to do with a biker gang in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic Tokyo. Because of this, I thought that’s what the movie would center on: a biker gang causing trouble in neo-Tokyo. But then, to my surprise, superhuman psionic abilities got involved and from that point on I felt like the film took a bit of a dive off the deep end.

My expectations of Akira were exactly the cause of my confusion and disappointment with the movie. That isn’t to say I disliked it or thought it to be unenjoyable or bad. It just wasn’t what I thought it would be.

This is where the second viewing comes in. I haven’t rewatched Akira yet, but if I were to watch it again, I can guarantee I would be able to appreciate it more. Now that I know what I’m getting into, the shift in the film from a somewhat grounded story of a biker gang to a psychic showdown against a conniving government wouldn’t be so jarring as it was the first time around.

Expectations can sometimes make or break a film for us. And try as we might, it’s fairly impossible to enter a movie without them somewhere in our minds. Watching a film a second time is the closest we can get to erasing these expectations. When you watch again, the only expectations you have are ones that pair up exactly with the movie. You know what to expect, and this allows you more room for appreciation.

Complexities

Many movies have twists and turns that often demand a second viewing in order to fully understand them. Many stories might also move too fast for us and might not give us the time to catch our breath and take everything in. Yes, you can absolutely turn to a YouTube video or an article explaining the film. But the important part of this is applying those newfound revelations to the source material, i.e., watching the movie again. Now that you know (for the most part) what’s going on, the pieces can all fall into place.

As my film professor would say, ‘What are you seeing?’ | © 2001 Newmarket

A great example of this can be found in Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Memento is an incredibly complex film, replicating its protagonist’s short-term memory loss with a distinct chronological ordering of the events of the movie. Because of this method of storytelling, the plot can be extremely difficult to comprehend for first-time viewers. But by solving the puzzle of how the events of the film are arranged, you can come back to it knowing exactly how the movie is working. Now that you know what’s going on, you don’t have to spend as much time trying to figure it out, thus allowing more room to focus on and appreciate the other aspects of the film.

As I said before, movies may sometimes move faster than you might like them to. While this is often a problem with the viewer (being tired, stressed, distracted), it is still something that should be considered that might warrant a second viewing.

Me watching Goodfellas for the first time | © 1990 Warner Bros.

For me, this happened the first time I watched Goodfellas. I remember being bombarded with information; between the narration and the events happening on screen my brain started to lag behind what I was watching. One minute the characters are sitting in a restaurant talking about clowns and the next minute it’s burning down. By the end of the movie, it just didn’t click for me.

The second time around, though, it all made sense. I knew how the movie operated, with the narration guiding us through events in the protagonist’s history. I knew the direction of the story and where everything would end up. And because I knew all of this, I was able to fall in love with the fantastic dialogue, characters, camerawork, editing, etc. I didn’t have to worry about missing something and losing track of what was happening. I knew what was happening. And that’s what made me especially enjoy it.

Granted, some movies are just confusing because they’re poorly made or written. How to tell the difference between a complex movie and a bad movie if it isn’t obvious? Honestly, I couldn’t give you a perfect answer to that question. My advice is to go with your gut. If you think a movie is worth revisiting, more often than not it will be.  

Foreshadowing and Details

Filmmakers know exactly where a story is going to end up as they are making a movie. This allows them to insert small details in certain sequences that hint at what is to come.

Watching a film for a second time lets you notice this stuff. Small things that just served as background to the shot the first time around now become more important. The movie becomes more engaging because now you’re on the lookout for these details.

Another diner picture | © 1994 Miramax Films

A great example of this is Pulp Fiction in its entirety. The events of the movie are placed out of chronological order (in contrast to Memento which places its scenes out of chronological order, but in a recurring and predictable pattern). Some scenes in Pulp Fiction take place in the same location, but from a different character’s point of view. After you’ve seen the movie once, you can revisit it with an eye for other characters in scenes that don’t necessarily feature them.

Take the diner scene for example. In the film’s opening, you can clearly see Vincent walking to the bathroom of the restaurant as Pumpkin and Honey Bunny are talking. What was just some guy walking in the background of the shot the first time around becomes something exciting that directly ties into the rest of the film upon second viewing.

Wrap-Up

You when you watch a movie a second time | © 1975 Warner Bros.

I love watching movies a second time. So many times have I watched a movie that I had heard such great things about for the first time only to not get what all of the fuss was about. This happened to me with The Godfather, Jackie Brown, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Barry Lyndon, just to name a few. Now, after having watched these films at least twice, they are among some of my favorites of all time.

So are you not sure about that supposedly-great movie you just watched? Don’t know what to think about No Country for Old Men or Badlands? Try giving it another watch. You just might like what you find.

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