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Movies Never Change, But The People Who Watch Them Do

04/04/2016 12:31 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Something happens to me whenever I watch 'Zoolander' (the first, not the second). I am transported to the early 2000s when my friends and I crowded around a tiny desktop in my grubby, student accommodation to watch the movie. It is still the funniest, most quotable, greatest male-model-turned-secret-assassin movie ever made and, every time I re-watch it, I am reminded of my university life, my friends and the many photos of us with the "blue steel" look.

This year, though, when I rewatched 'Zoolander', it hit me that David Bowie will never judge a fictitious fashion walk-off again, and that made me melancholy.

Now, I am a creature of habit. I have a 'go to' movie for every occasion ('Love Actually' for Christmas, 'Mean Girls' for when I'm recovering from a cold), so I constantly find myself re-watching movies in the way some people look forward to greeting old friends. And, just like with old friends, I find myself reacting differently to a movie after each viewing.

*Spoiler alert*

Take, for example, 'Lost in Translation'. When I first saw this movie in 2004, I could not relate to these privileged people and their first-world problems. Oh woe is my life as I stay in this grand hotel and enjoy the perks of being an aging star or moneyed young wife. Must be a drag, traveling and experiencing the insanity that is Tokyo.

Since then, I have traveled a bit myself and now understand this movie better. Traveling can be lonely. A hotel is not a home. Being in a city where you don't speak the language can be frustrating. Bill Murray (Bob) and Scarlett Johanssen (Charlotte) play the roles of two lonely people looking for companionship with so much quiet sadness. There is no sex, no expressions of love, no discussions about leaving their partners for each other. Just a night out, a karaoke session and roaming the streets of Tokyo. It shows how cities are only as good as the company you keep.

'Jerry McGuire' is another movie that reminds me how much I've grown up. When I first saw this movie as a teen, I only noticed the obvious: Tom Cruise (Jerry) is a sports agent who gets fired, creates a legend of his loveable but demanding football player client (Cuba Gooding Jr as Rod) and makes an impassioned speech to win back Renee Zellweger (Dorothy). There was also an adorable kid (Jonathan Lipnicki as Ray) who stole a few scenes.

Over the years, I noticed other things. In my mid twenties, I realised how difficult it must be for the 26-year-old Dorothy to raise a child alone. As a 30-something business consultant, I better understood Jerry's workplace politics and could empathise with being burnt out, taking a stand and getting fired and then trying to start a business against all odds. The movie has aged so well for me because, with each viewing, I take away what I want, based on where I am in my own life.

There are other movies such as '(500) days of summer' where my sympathy for the lead character has changed over time. This movie is a quirky story of boy meets girl, boy falls in love but girl does not, boy then becomes a blubbering mess. At the first viewing, I thought Summer (Zooey Deschanel) was a cold, mean hypocrite. Despite all her talk about not wanting to be tied down, she made an effort to connect with Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). They even went dating in Ikea, a time-honored tradition for nesting couples. But Summer leaves Tom and marries someone else soon after. So what she really meant was, she did not want to be tied down to Tom.

When I watched it the second time, I found Tom irritating. He was not a hopeless romantic but cloying, overly emotional and insecure. He imagined Summer as the perfect girl for him and went to pieces when she maintained her original position: not interested.

Sometimes I re-watch movies to test if I still like it after the hype. Many movies pass the test, from the cheesy 'Top Gun' to the highbrow 'Annie Hall', but there is one category of movies that fail and those are movies directed by Wes Anderson.

See, Wes Anderson is an auteur. When people say, "a Wes Anderson movie", you know what to expect, like when people say a Tarantino or Spielberg movie. I like Wes Anderson's movies -- 'Rushmore', 'The Royal Tenenbaums', 'The Darjeeling Limited' -- the first time I watch them. The movies have a deliberate and languid pace and are visually stimulating, the characters are quirky, loveable losers and the soundtracks have an offbeat, folksy vibe.

But on the second viewing, I start to dislike everything I thought was interesting at the first viewing. The deadpan humour is not as funny. The pace is no longer languid; it is just infuriatingly slow. And are all those random bits of slow-motion action supposed to be artistic?

See, I don't need my movies to be stylish and visually pleasing. I just need them to have enough depth and clever references so that when I re-watch it, I can discover things that I missed the first time. After all, what are movies if not the gift that keeps giving?

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