Films that are better on repeat viewings, stories that are narratively satisfying, and the danger of high expectations: on Inception, Looper, and the billion other movies I've watched lately

Sunday, February 16, 2014

I watched Inception for the second time the other night, after initially seeing it in the cinema a few years ago, and feeling really irritated by it. It's a film, I've found, that's better on repeat viewing. (Unlike another, more recent film I saw a few weeks back, This Is The End, which is mainly entertaining for its shock value. Watch it again and you find yourself wondering what you laughed at the first time.)

Inception is a film that seems to want so desperately to be taken seriously, which is one of the reasons I find it so entertaining (I have trouble taking fictional things seriously. My sarcasm is an issue at times). I've taken up randomly quoting from it to annoy my family ('Militarised subconscious!' I'll shout. 'Unstructured dream space!' I am a nightmare to live with.). I could remember it only vaguely, but remembered disliking it, so my expectations were low. And then I enjoyed it. I thought it was melodramatic, but I love melodrama. (And dreamscapes. Though the dreams were not particularly dreamlike.) I was very happy with the ending this time. It's funny that how you view something is pretty much entirely influenced by where you're at yourself.

I watched Looper the same evening, which I've seen three or four times now. I like it aesthetically and you know how I feel about time travel, but the failings of logic in the time travel ruin the entire thing for me (I had to draw a diagram on the back of an envelope to try to explain to someone how the film makes no sense - no one was there to shoot the kid's mum the first time around! He's still going to become the rain maker! Entire thing is pointless!).

The next evening I watched One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, which was oddly charming but then, suddenly, profoundly depressing. I watched The Birds and I watched Rear Window, and the latter was better (did everyone behave so strangely in the old days?).

A few weeks ago I finally saw The World's End, by the same people as Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. I had intended to see it at the cinema but it's expensive and by the time I make up my mind whether or not it's worth it the film's run is over. But, The World's End. Hot Fuzz is my favourite film, alongside Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, and I quote it incessantly. If I had perhaps approached The World's End as someone who had not seen Hot Fuzz, who was not aware of how well these particular movie-makers could be at making movies, I would've enjoyed it a lot more. It was odd and funny but a profound disappointment compared against their previous work.

I worry about this a lot, you know. That you might never better the first thing you come out with (I would say most people think Shaun of the Dead is the best one, of the trio). I wonder if Tarantino gets annoyed that everyone still thinks Pulp Fiction was the best (I prefer Reservoir Dogs, personally).

The World's End got worse on repeat viewings, disappointingly, whereas Hot Fuzz only improves. I do love a film where you notice something new every time you see it. (I have not seen Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind in years, but watched it many times when I was fourteen or fifteen and thus still regard it as one of my favourite films. It, too, was better on repeat viewings.) I rewatch movies in a way that I do not reread books. I think perhaps because the time commitment for films is far less.

The last time I went to the cinema was to see The Book Thief (I won't spoil it for you, if you haven't seen it yet). I haven't read the book because I am trying to avoid depressing books. Of course going along to see the movie was not a good idea. Bit of an emotional wreck afterwards. If you haven't seen it of course you should. I could not compare it to the book, which I think is a good thing. The film rarely compares (Fight Club was better as a film than as a book, but that's the exception). I'll read it when I'm feeling up to it.

The purpose of this post is to say: I've hardly been reading lately but I've watched a lot of films. My inability to replicate extraordinary narratives still irritates me, but not to the same degree as when I read an extraordinary novel. Maybe a change in medium distances me from the process enough to be able to almost appreciate it just for what it is. I think it's a good way to study narrative, even if you're not conscious of it. Three-act structure must just seep in, right? Of course I am excellent at rationalising sitting around watching films. After all, it's research.

I am always glad for film recommendations! (And book recommendations too, for that matter. Look, recommend a band if you want. I really like recommendations.) Time travel, reality-bending, dialogue-heavy movies, silly humour - I like these things.
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