The Rewatchability of Movies and the Mystery of the Human Person

Car Exploding
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Few movies that I watch any more leave me with any desire to see them again. As technology advances, a movie may employ 3d graphics, CGI, and surround sound, and they may feature big explosions, loud car chases, and bright vibrant colors, and yet I can’t remember the last time I bothered to buy the DVD. Few films nowadays really move and impress me enough for me to want to see them a second time.

Gran TorinoThe last movie I saw that seemed to have this characteristic of “rewatchability”,was Gran Torino directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. If you haven’t seen this fine piece of cinema then you really ought to consider renting (or buying the DVD). It is a powerful movie with a great message. The last time I watched it – which wasn’t the first time – I actually started watching it again right afterwards because the TV station was running it twice! And yet, Gran Torino features very little action, only one explosion, no epic fight scenes, no fancy CGI, it wasn’t in 3D, etc., etc., etc. …you get the picture. So what makes a movie re-watchable?

I’m sure there are many factors, but I have a theory about what I believe is one of the biggest. For me, characters are hands-down what make or break a movie’s re-watchability. Sure, I like big movie explosions as much as the next guy…

Car Exploding

WHOOOOO!

…but here is the thing about explosions: It doesn’t matter how big they are or how much high tech wizardry is used, once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it.

Car Exploding

… meh

Characters are different though. When characters are rich, believable, and well-acted, they present us a glimpse of the phenomenon we experience with people in real life: people are inexhaustible. You can spend your life getting to know someone and there will still be things to learn and appreciate.

In a world of finite things (such as explosions)…

Car Exploding

ALL RIGHT ALREADY!

…people are an interesting phenomena because they are just darned interesting; they are little points of infinity swimming in a sea of finitude.

One of my favorite quotes from CS Lewis is as follows:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
― C.S. Lewis

For this reason, in so far as a movie has good characters, it offers the viewer something that can not be fully exhausted no matter how many times they watch. No matter how many times you watch a Rhett Buttler and Scarlet O’Hara (Gone with the Wind), Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean), Sean Thornton (Quiet Man), St. Thomas More (Man for All Seasons), Thomas Becket (Becket), Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty (The Scarlet and the Black), or Walt Kowalski (Gran Torino), the characters and the movies they inhabit are still interesting and unexpected. (Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Carribean is a good example here because without him I don’t think I would have bothered re-watching “Pirates” at all, let alone the sequels)

I love that guy…

There are certainly many factors that go into a good movie and certainly a movie that has good characters but an ill-conceived plot, boring subject matter, and un-enjoyable audiovisuals is still going to be a chore to get through. Nevertheless, many of the most re-watchable movie out there – such as Gran Torino – are what they are because of the good writing and acting that went into them and in spite of a lack of the cinematic bells and whistles modern movie-going thrill-seekers think they need.

Bells and Whistles

Great fun, to be sure. 

So think about this next time you are logging into Netflix or visiting the movie theater at the mall. I would be very interested in knowing your “re-watchable” movies and what you think of the characters therein.

5 thoughts on “The Rewatchability of Movies and the Mystery of the Human Person

  1. Andrew H.

    Me, I can’t seem to get enough of a few particular movies, and some of these people may look at and say, “Well yeah, that’s got some awesome action scenes, compelling story line, and great characters!” I would argue that a compelling storyline can make up for a bit of lacking in the characters of a movie. I find that both are, most often, in balance in the movies that I watch again and again. But that’s just me.

    “Gran Torino”
    Great movie, and Walt Kowalski is a big part of that, also, the story line of how he tries to take his rundown and, to him at least, “gook infested” neighborhood and tries to make it better by helping the kids next door learn how to be good human beings. There’s just a great story there, and a wonderful message that’s being sent to the audience that there is always hope. Also, I love the priest, resilient and never giving up on his mission. Even to the point of bringing the cops into the situation because he fears that Walt may do something rash. He’s about as good an example of a young priest. So, there’s that as well. But for the most part, I agree, Walt is what really makes this movie great. That, and his careless use of slang terms and racial slurs. (I feel a little bad for laughing when he says that.)

    “Lord of War”
    This sets in my mind as one of the best underwatched movies that I know of. Most people think, “Okay, he sells guns to mobsters, warlords, dictators, and despots all across the globe, what’s more to understand? What more is there to this movie?” But there is so much more than that! Not only do you get to see a glimpse of the dark underbelly of the illegal gun trade, wars in Africa, and how much like Swiss cheese most borders all around the world are, you get to see how someone that started out living as an American in a fair neighborhood turns out to be, “The Lord of War.” (A nickname used in the film.) Nicholas Cage has been in some interesting roles these past few years, with things like “Next,” “The Sorcerers Apprentice”, “Drive Angry,” some people kinda look at him and say, “What weird thing is he gonna be in next?” This is one of his gems, like “National Treasure,” and “Gone in 60 Seconds,” great character, a compelling story line, and wonderful acting by him and his brother, Vitaly played by Jared Leto. There are a few explosions, some blood and gore, lots of guns, and a little bit of nudity, but it’s all part of the story, and I can accept that. It’s not the focus of the film, and it’s by no means used just for kicks and giggles. It actually brings something to the story. Again, story and characters coming together to make a great movie.

    “Serenity”
    The love child of a wonderful TV show that FOX dropped (as it often does…), Joss Whedon, and Universal Studios that was almost dropped had it not been for the clamoring of the TV shows fans. A great underdog story of the little ship of misfits from a civil war versus the almost tyrannical Alliance of Planets. Again, I’m going with a fair mix of characters and storyline. (Though, I think I’m biased a bit because this /is/ a sci-fi flick, and I’m a pretty big Trekkie.) If you watched the TV show, you get to know most of the main characters, their relationships, and where they came from; but even if you just watch the movie, you’re in for a great treat. There characters really shine as they fight against their instincts of self preservation and the desire, no, fire is a better word, to do the right thing. Which happens to be, “Tell the whole ‘verse what the Alliance has really been up to and deal a damaging blow, and while we’re at it, we’re gonna look pretty bad-ass in the process.” Yes, there are a few pretty sweet fight scenes, both on the ground and in space, (I’m a fan of the Space one personally) but they add to the whole idea that they are on the fringes of the inhabited worlds and there is a severe lack of law an order there. (think of the old American Wild West in space.) Again, this one seems to not be well known or well watched unless you’re a massive sci-fi fan, but I think it has some severe re-watchability thanks to the story and the characters.

    All said and done, I agree, characters make a big part of the movie, but I think that story has a lot to do with it as well. Had Walt not been dying, had he not wanted to be a good man and help out the family next door, “Gran Torino” would have been almost a total flop. But… that’s just me.

  2. Thanks for the comment Andrew.

    I agree – certainly the compelling storyline and plot are important parts of what makes a movie great. As I mentioned, solid characters still may not make up for a terrible plot.

    However, the discussion of simply what makes a “great movie” is a slightly different one than what makes a “rewatchable” movie. The point that I was particularly trying to get at was phenomenon of rewatchability that, in my opinion, only occurs or at least mostly occurs when the characters of a given movie are rich and realistic.

    I think this can explain how movies become “cult classics”. Oftentimes such movies are lower budget, quirky, have strange plots, etc. However, the characters are interesting because they “feel” like real people. Serenity is a good example. The movie, as well as the show, were both a little cheesy, lower budget than other shows, and the storyline was a little strange. But the characters were so entertaining! After just a few episodes, it really didn’t matter where the plot would go – I kept watching because of the characters.

    As for Gran Torino, it is a great movie because it has a lot of elements in place, characters as well as plot. However, this ellusive rewatchability I think has more to do with the characters.

    While many elements are important to a movie and it is the cohesion of these elements that make a great movie, I think the characters are what give the movie life – they are its soul. The difference between watching a movie with interesting characters and shallow/boring characters is the difference between talking to a real person and talking to a robot. Most plots can be boiled down to the basic plot: a struggle between good and evil. The reason this basic plot never gets boring is because “good and evil” are never impersonal forces, but rather, always real immortal souls.

    I’m rambling – I may come back to this later : ) Thanks andrew!

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