There’s a movie I watch on repeat, in good times and bad. But why do I keep returning to it? Well, science knows, because of course it does.
This 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 I love it just the same. For those not in the know, The Graduate tells the story between man and his convertible, maritals with the mum before knowing the daughter, stalking, 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?
I mean, the whole film, by modern sensibilities, is fucked—and following the timeline of Hoffman’s movies, you can see how Benjamin Braddock continued his smutty lifestyle of ruining people who love him, to turn into unwashed shyster Ratso Rizzo, before finally falling through the trapdoor of society and becoming Captain Hook, a man who wants to murder children.
But, somehow, I keep returning to it and it still seems fresh, despite the fact that I know that the bread is from 1967.
It got me thinking: why do we endure—nay, seek—movies and music that we’ve played to absolute creaking death? Well, after much Googling between other things, I’ve found a theory worth nodding in a huffed shrug.
A few years ago, Professors of Marketing, 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, and collated the data.
The findings are simple, and rather crushing. The professors found that we participate in this behavior because the brain knows what will happen and when, and thusly what reward to drag from it.
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. Oh, that Benjamin. He’s saved her, but ruined her. 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.
Also on The Big Smoke
This brings me nicely to the second point.
The other facet of the study was about growth. If you think we pursue the movies of old to look back, You lose! Good day, sir! For the reason actually lies in the future and how we’re changing to deal 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. I also experienced that whilst rewatching Blade recently—a movie that I thought was rad, but was actually fucking terrible. So when people say, “Oohhhh I remember this,” they’re really saying, “Ohhh I remember who I no longer am.”
Remember, growth is always a good thing. Unless it sees you to 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.
I’m just going to play the ending.
Fantastic. Love sucks.