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.
The 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…
…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.
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)…
…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)
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.
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.