Altering our endings
You push play on a flick you already know the ending to. You already know how this film will make you feel. But you crave this feeling so much that you watch it over and over. You might even look for similar movies and TV shows — because rewatching your favorite movies and shows is a rite of passage.
Once a year, I rewatch my favorites. I go to Google and, instead of buying the titles once and for all, I rent How to Be Single, Frances Ha, The Devil Wears Prada, Friends with Benefits, and other titles about twenty-somethings trying to figure it out. Because I’m 29. And still have nothing figured out.
These movies are, of course, entertaining. But I also watch them because I want to feel the way I felt when I first watched them.
We’re all guilty of this repeat behavior. Especially when it comes to rewatching the same programs around the holidays. I lost count of how many times I’ve seen Elf and Surviving Christmas in December.
Some people want to get pumped up with nostalgia while others want to watch Mad Men or How I Met Your Mother for the hundredth time in a row because they simply enjoy these shows.
Some people return to movies because they’ve grown, whether financially or personally, and believe they’ll feel how they wanted to feel the first time they pushed play.
I continue to go back to Friends with Benefits and crave the security that’s buying plane tickets whenever I please. In FwB, Justin Timberlake’s character buys Mila Kunis’ character a plane ticket with his miles. He books this last-minute ticket around the Fourth of July. It’s not about control—I want to experience how it feels to have extra money, points, or any form of currency to throw down on a whim. After all, a last-minute flight from NYC to Los Angeles is, I’m told, expensive. I also crumble for the speech Richard Jenkins’ character gives to Timberlake’s character: “Life is God damn short and you can’t waste a minute of it.” While I’m not currently chasing a girl, the message is universal. And it’s one I constantly need to be reminded of as trying to make it as a writer in LA can feel like you’re swimming in circles consisting of quicksand.
When in college, you’re supposed to struggle—being broke as hell is also a rite of passage. Deciding between, say, studying abroad and graduating on time is an easy decision to make. You study abroad. After college, there are times when you think, ‘Do I really want to go to the bars this weekend, or should I pony up on my rent?’ You, boring as hell, pay your rent.
The first time I watched The Office, a comedy about the mundane life of the workplace, I couldn’t get into the series. But it had nothing to do with the content. At the time, I was dealing with an undesirable work environment and spending my little free time applying to jobs and searching for escape routes. (I landed on an MFA program.) I had to return to The Office when I was a different person, no longer dealing with a work breakup, to fully enjoy it — and I did.
The first time I watched Crazy, Stupid, Love, a movie about a man who separates from his wife and reinvents himself, I thought about how much more I’d enjoy the movie if I, like Steve Carell, could afford to drop a piece of plastic on a counter and buy a new wardrobe, and then hit the bar for what appears to be seven days a week (clearly, I don’t make as much money as I want to). Having Ryan Gosling as my wingman would also be cool.
While we all love to secretly watch shows and movies about people who are struggling like us, or about people we wish we could be, we also want to return when we’re doing better because we, too, want our happy endings. We continue to watch the same movies and shows because they make us feel how we want to feel. Other stories are similar but played in different tones.
I’m not necessarily talking about nostalgia. I’m not talking about watching Dazed and Confused for the millionth time, a movie that reminds me of a simpler time when my brother and our best friends, who are also brothers, watched Out Cold in our parents’ basements. I’ve tried to duplicate the feeling I had when I first watched Californication while on the verge of moving to California. That’s nostalgia. I’m not talking about turning back the clock to feel the way I felt way back when and reminisce.
I’m talking about watching something when I’m better equipped to feel how I wanted to feel the first time I watched something, not watching a show to remind me of a happier time or simply because it’s something I’m familiar with.
Maybe that’s why we spend so much time watching stories we already know the endings to. We’re trying to recreate that time while, most importantly, altering our endings. This feeling isn’t about appreciating a passage of time. It’s about, oddly, changing it.