Five Movies I Didn’t Love Until the Second Viewing

While I tend to think that a movie should give you everything you need to enjoy it on the first viewing, it’s hard to deny that with some great movies a rewatch is simply necessary. In fact, the more I get into the medium, the more I find that my second viewing of a good movie is often better than the first.

So, what follows are five movies that — for whatever reason — I needed to see a second time before I fell in love with them.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Did you guys see this movie? I thought it was brilliant; one of the best spy movies I’ve ever come across… though I confess I wasn’t sure of that the first time I saw it. I’ve never read the book (or any of Le Carre’s stuff, for that matter), so watching a two-hour version of what had previously been a 400-page book and a 5.5 hour BBC miniseries was, in the words of one of my favorite professors, “a bit like drinking from a fire hose.”

So what changed?

I actually understood the damn thing. Movies like this are usually whodunnits, brain-teasers where you have to put together the puzzle pieces. The first time I watched Tinker Tailor, it basically seemed like a collection of interesting, if unconnected sequences. Sure, I felt suspense as Peter Guillam lifted files from a library, or sadness over Ricki Tarr’s tale of intrigue abroad, but I couldn’t sort out how all these things fed into the narrative as a whole. I couldn’t, in other words, “beat the movie.”

The second time through, having a cursory understanding of the plot, I realized that the movie is more concerned with rendering a portrait of these sad, lonely men and their sad, lonely business than it is in providing a thrilling detective caper. The thrills that are there mainly come from watching Smiley work through the thick web of half-truths and betrayals. A second viewing allowed me to wrap my head around who did what, why, where, and how, and thus appreciate the intricate character work laid into these actions.

Shutter Island
(Mild SPOILERS on this entry.)

I’m not the world’s biggest Scorsese fan, and the movies of his I do like tend to be less of his usual champions (I’m not a huge fan of The Departed or Goodfellas, for instance) and more of his movies like Cape Fear or Shutter Island. In fact, Shutter Island is my favorite Scorsese movie. Its weird atmosphere and intensely mannered acting are initially a bit off-putting, but once you watch it again and get a better sense of what’s going on “behind the scenes,” the movie takes a turn for the brilliant.

So what changed?

Another thing that a second viewing can grant is a new angle on a story’s events. Movies like Memento, Fight Club, and The Usual Suspects are famous for making you take another look once the credits roll. The nature of Teddy Daniel’s tale in this movie results in a dark, eccentric tone that I haven’t seen much elsewhere. When I watched it again, those awkward passages crystallized into a brilliant, emotional story. Actors who I dismissed revealed new subtleties in their performances and the cinematography, sound, and even visual effects all worked substantially better in “context.”

And to those of you who’ve seen it once, and/or who manage to outwit the main narrative, it’s more than just knowing “the ending.” It’s understanding the backstory and actions that motivate the entire plot. For instance, once you know why Ruffalo’s Chuck Aule keeps acting stilted and aloof towards Teddy, his performance goes from puzzling to perfect. The eerie strangeness of the movie is gone, replaced by a creeping sadness that turns devastating by the end of it all.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

I wanted to include a comedy on here, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang had to be it. If I ever write a list of “Most Quotable” anything, rest assured this mile-a-minute dime-store caper will be on it. This is one of those comedies that packs the jokes in so thick they almost don’t have room to breathe, and the plot they’re wrapped up in folds back on itself about every twenty minutes or so.

So what changed?

Complex as this flick is, it isn’t one of those “aha!” movies where all the pieces fall into place the second time around. Rather, it’s the kind where I catch new jokes and wrinkles in the plot each time you revisit it. The first time, the sheer zaniness of the humor and intentionally confounding plot left me a little winded, but more I returned to this dark piece of crime comedy, the more hilarious bits I managed to discover. Also, I keep being surprised by how well the plot stands up to these repeat viewings.

“Thank GOD you had a gun down there…”

(Mild SPOILERS here, too.)

The first time through on this movie, I was fairly blown away by the first act (unlike a lot of movies, this one is LITERALLY divided into three acts. The second was good, but not as good as the first, and the third was… interesting. Cool movie, but a little disappointing in my eyes. I think I may have just been expecting more “sleuthing.”

So what changed?

The second time through, though, I really got into the game of one-upmanship between Milo and Andrew. These guys are vicious, taking every opportunity to humiliate, degrade, or undercut the other. Knowing the sinister motives that drive the diabolical acts of these two men let me dig into their dialogue, which swings from playful one moment to downright nasty the next. It’s a movie that keeps the viewer on his/her toes throughout, so a little bit of context goes a long way.

In a sense, Sleuth shares qualities with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Both are witty but very densely written; the kind of movies that won’t necessarily play well to an inactive audience.

The Fountain

I don’t entirely understand this movie, but I love it anyway. That wasn’t the case the first time through, as initially I simply thought it an interesting “parallel storylines” think-piece. Admittedly, one with gorgeous visuals and great acting. Since then, I’ve come to regard it as one of the more emotional takes on the dense subject of life, death, and the love that ties them together.

So what changed?

Well, I still don’t quite understand everything. But I’m getting there! Like all great rewatches, The Fountain is a movie that reveals new details and nuances with each viewing. So what if I still can’t wrap my head around it? I’ve gotten the big picture of what Aaronofsky is going after, and it’s something beautiful indeed.

Even after multiple viewings, the specific thread weaving together the movie’s three storylines is hard to follow. It IS there, though, and the connections between them only increase each time through. Fortunately — and incredibly — for a movie this tightly constructed, The Fountain only runs about an hour and forty minutes. Rewatching it isn’t exactly a breeze, but neither does it feel like work. With each viewing, I care more about the characters, understand more about the story, and catch more glimpses of the larger tapestry that I missed the first few times around.

What about you? What movies did you need to watch again, or do you recommend a second viewing of?


  1. Sara Clemens August 7, 2012
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