Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cinematic Comfort Food: On the indulgent pleasure of the rewatch

I have seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy approximately three dozen and a half times. The half? I'm watching it again right now, as I type and probably as you read, because I don't know if you've heard, but it's sort of long. After I finish this post, I'll probably spend the rest of the day doing some light grading, making some food, and dicking around on the Internet. And I won't pause the film(s) while I do it. So I guess a purist would accuse me of not actually "watching" the movie, and they'd have a point. I'm not going to witness every scene. I'm not going to hear every line. But I really don't need to.

I've seen these films so many times that their cinematic rhythms are as familiar to me as breathing. And what do all the yogis, from David Lynch to Rodney Yee, tell you to do in order to be more calm and mindful? Pay attention to your breathing. I know when my favorite moments are coming--Strider's first appearance through a haze of pipe smoke, Gandalf's expulsion of Saruman from King Theoden, Faramir's doomed assault on occupied Osgiliath--so I look up, I recite my favorite lines, I smile, and I get back to work.

These films also belong to me precisely because I've rewatched them for, ouch, going on ten years now. The scenes are thick, speaking not only of themselves, but where I've been when I've watched them. Frodo being chased to Buckleberry Ferry by a Black Rider will always remind me of moving to Columbia to go to graduate school, and watching Fellowship with my dad in a living room filled with boxes that all toppled over at that very tension-filled moment, scaring the hell out of both of us. The disorienting opening scene of Return of the King takes me back to the midnight showing I attended with Nat, my partner-in-crime, for which I made her show up a good six hours early.

And I'm always reminded of the many times I've returned to these films when I craved a bit of comfort. When things out here are a bit confusing or new and exciting but unfamiliar, things in Middle Earth are reliably stable. Saruman will always make the mistake of "RRRipping" all the trees down, Gandalf will always return at first light on the fifth day, and Sam will always make it there and back again. Lord of the Rings is my macaroni and cheese. It's my warm bath. It's my illuminated living room window on a dark night. There are movies like that. There are people like that. And when you find them, there is no more fulfilling and sweeter pleasure than welcoming them into your life again and again.

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