Movies That Require Multiple Viewings: From '2001' to 'The Master'

Movies That Require Multiple Viewings: From '2001' to 'The Master'

Sep 28, 2012

Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master is one of those films that will continue to be discussed through the end of the year. Not just because it's a limited release that slowly continues to expand its screen count each week (today it adds 68 more screens for a total of 856). And not just because of any Oscar buzz surrounding the performances and whatever else people deem worthy of accolades. Mainly people will keep talking about it because it's a film that requires multiple viewings for the purpose of working out what it means.

In the two weeks it has been in theaters (not to mention ahead of release through initial festival screenings), critics and moviegoers have admitted to seeing The Master two or three times, at least, and in the past week there have been a ton of "here's what The Master is about" type posts on all level of movie site, from the highly academic to the broader-in-scope blogs. I don't really see it as a kind of puzzle film open to solution, but it certainly has elements that are open to interpretation.

As do most films, as far as my academically burdened mind is concerned, but I must concede to the idea that there are indeed films more demanding or simply more worthy of repeat viewing than others, whether it's to figure them out or "get" or it's to better appreciate later in life or it's just for fun analysis. And in recent years, thanks in particular to filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Richard Kelly and Charlie Kaufman and an interest in garnering buzz solely through clever twists, ambiguous endings and complex layers of storytelling -- much of which can be labeled "meta" -- there's a growing enthusiasm for such thought-provoking cinema, both of the arthouse and mainstream sorts.

Not all are as notable as the perplexing films of David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick, whose The Shining is getting a resurgence of multiple-viewing interest thanks to the new documentary Room 237, which consists of interpretations and theories of that Stephen King adaptation. Of course, 2001: A Space Odyssey tends to bewilder first timers even more. As for Lynch, fans love exploring different readings of Mullholland Drive, and I recall NYC's IFC Center offering special deals to people who went to see Inland Empire 13 times (!). 

Given that Looper is now in theaters, we should also consider all the mind-fracking time-travel movies with circular plots or confounding paradoxes. Primer, which partly influenced Looper, is an obvious one, as is the comparable 12 Monkeys and its basis La Jetee. There's also the similarly structured Timecrimes and Triangle. I'm sure there are a lot of us that even needed to watch Back to the Future  and Back to the Future Part II back to back a few times when the latter came out. 

But sometimes multiple-viewing movies aren't such because they're complicated or cryptic. Some of them are highly regarded or immediately acclaimed films that we feel wrong for not liking at first, thereby compelling us to give them another and another and another shot. Citizen Kane is the biggie for me in that regard, having had to watch it over and over in film school until at last I got what's so wonderful about it. I think much of the multiple-viewing for The Master is and will be similar, especially given all the reviews and tweets I've seen with statements like, "I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. I'll need to see it again." 



What movies took you multiple viewings to get or appreciate? 

To kick things off, here are some responses received so far via Twitter:







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