Hello movie, my old friend: The science behind watching things on repeat

We tend to return to the same movies, in good times and bad – and now a pair of researchers believe they know why. Elaine!



There’s a movie I keep returning to…it’s not a particularly good movie, and as time has slipped by, the themes discussed within have forced me to watch it when my more liberal housemates aren’t home; but The Graduate tells the story between a man and his convertible, maritals with the mum before knowing the daughter, stalking, huge issues with what constitutes a consent, impersonating a man of the lord, Dustin Hoffman’s awkward running, and the best ending in all of cinema.

An ending which hints at the fact that the characters have wasted their time, and thusly yours for following them.




I’ve followed this Simon and Garfunkel soundtracked fleshy shame spiral blerghfest four hundred times. Easily. But why?

A few years ago, Professors Cristel Antonia Russell and Sidney J Levy, conducted a study of a wide cross-section of people who had recently re-digested a book, film or whathaveyou. Armed with pen and long question, the two professors sought to drag lengthy first-person responses from their guinea pigs. Why do we re-watch old movies, huh?

The findings are simple, and rather crushing. The professors found that we participate in this behaviour because the brain knows what will happen.

For example: with The Graduate, the scene where Ben, chased by Paul Simon’s acoustic guitar, runs out of petrol and punches on with the mayor from Jaws – before having his grand moment of doomed love – drags pity, but relatable pity, from my core. Hence why I put myself through it. I know Ben’s choice, and I revel in it. Like a comfy old chair made of broken feelings and exhausted loins, Oh that Ben.


Also on The Big Smoke


The other facet of the study was about growth. If you think we pursue the movies of old to look back, for the reason actually lies in the future and how we’re changing to death with it. Think of it as a subconscious measuring stick: coming back to an old movie to see how much you’ve grown since last viewing, or the last time you thought it was great. Ergo, the movie hasn’t changed, you have – and one must return to old movies to help realise that.

Remember. Growth is always a good thing. Unless you confuse growth for impulsive selflishness, one that sees you give up the mum for the daughter and ruin everyone’s future, including your own, all for a prosaic trip on a bus to nowhere.





Share via