There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who love rewatching movies, and those who think it’s a colossal waste of our limited time.
If you’re the former, I have nothing to offer except validation. If you happen to be the latter, however, I’d like to present a piece of evidence that just might change your mind.
Five years ago, I watched Marvel’s Dr. Strange for the first time. In the scene that most stood out to me, Strange and his mentor, the “Ancient One,” are looking at a thunderstorm in slow motion. Knowing these are her last moments before she dies, she leaves Strange with a final lesson for the big fight that is to come — a fight he must now face alone. When Strange claims he’s not ready, the Ancient One replies:
“No one ever is. We don’t get to choose our time. Death is what gives life meaning. To know your days are numbered. Your time is short.”
“Death is what gives life meaning.” That hit me right in the gut. It hit me so hard that, a year later, I could still remember the scene and write an article about it.
Now, fast forward about 1,800 days, a long time by any standard. I’ve just recovered from Covid, which I got despite being vaccinated. I’m in a foreign country. My productivity had just gained momentum again after a slump, and now, I was back at zero, forced to start over.
The last night before flying home and rebuilding my routine, I need inspiration. I need a hero humbled by life, willing to begin again. For some reason, I remember Dr. Strange and press play.
Before becoming a hero, Strange was a neurosurgeon. Good-looking, successful, and arrogant to the nines. After an entirely self-caused car accident, his hands barely work, and they definitely don’t stay still long enough to be a surgeon. Thankfully, he finds a new gig protecting the universe.
As the movie reaches my favorite scene, I get excited, prepared to relearn a great lesson. Instead, I get an entirely different one. Seconds before her comment about death, the Ancient One reminds Strange he still has a long way to go:
“Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all.”
“It’s not about you.”
Finally, the Ancient One explains the story of the man that led Strange to her in the first place, a man paralyzed from the waist down. She taught him magic, and he used it to walk.
Strange realizes he, too, could have his old life back. The Ancient One affirms that he could — “and the world would be all the lesser for it.” It is only here, long after he’s gone down the path of the hero, that finally, finally, Strange understands life is not about money and accolades. It’s about dedicating yourself to a bigger cause — and that, once again, hits me right in the gut.
“I have been self-absorbed lately,” I think. “I run laps around myself, pointing a spotlight at my own face.” Remembering I’m not so important is exactly what I need to kickstart my routine. “Let’s do some work, and do it as best as I can. Not for me. For others.”
In that spirit, I jump on the plane the next morning. It won’t last forever, of course, but it’s been a productive few days since.
At one point in How I Met Your Mother, Ted is engaged to a girl named Stella. When he tells his best friend Marshall she’s never seen Star Wars, the latter says a preliminary viewing is a must: “Star Wars is your all-time favorite movie, and whether or not Stella likes it is actually important. It’s a test of how compatible you guys are.”
After watching the movie twice in a row (again), Ted, too, is convinced of the idea. Some failed attempts at spying on Stella as she watches later, the two wait anxiously in Ted’s room to find out Stella’s verdict. “I loved it,” she claims, and Ted rushes to get the champagne. But Marshall can see right through her, and Stella admits she neither understood nor enjoyed the movie.
At this point, Marshall gives Stella the following speech, reminding her of the small responsibilities attached to the big commitment of marriage:
That is Ted’s favorite movie of all time. He watches it when he’s home sick with the flu. He watches it on rainy Sunday afternoons in the fall. He watches it on Christmas Eve. Ted watches Star Wars in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. Do you really think that you can pretend to like a movie that you actually hate for the rest of your life?
Stella says she does, to which Marshall responds that Ted is a lucky guy. While their engagement will eventually fall apart, the latter remains true — and not just because his best friend always has his back.
Ted is lucky because he can find comfort in the familiarity of Star Wars whenever he needs it. We all go back to the things and people we love when we’re down, and there’s no reason movies can’t be part of that list.
Most of all, however, Ted is lucky because every time he watches Star Wars, he learns something new — because with every rerun, there’s an entirely new Ted watching. That’s why you should watch your favorite movies twice. Or three times. Or four. Or eight.
You are just as likely, if not more, to extract yet another valuable lesson from something you already love than from something you may or may not like.
Books, movies, songs — these things don’t change. We, however, do all the time. We barely recognize ourselves year to year, let alone decade to decade. Even if you watched the same movie 365 days in a row, I bet you’d still notice different elements each time (although I’m not sure I’d recommend that experiment). But if ample time has passed, say, five years, then even rewatching a straightforward superhero movie can deliver profound new insight. After all, just like the hero, you’ve evolved a great deal since!
The first time I watched Dr. Strange, I needed a reminder that time is precious. The second time, I had to get out of my own head. On both occasions, the movie delivered, and I got a free, third lesson on top: None of that precious time is wasted if you spend it rewatching movies you love.