Longevity, much less watchability, seems to be the last priority of filmmakers these days, thanks in no small part to the importance of opening-weekend grosses, the increased prominence of DVD and Blu-ray bonus materials, and the fact that more movies than ever seem to occupy space in our collective consciousness. But when a movie is really, truly good, none of that should matter, right? We should be able to watch and revisit and indulge and enjoy just as much every time we see it, from here until the end of time - or at least that's the thinking.
Unfortunately, that simply doesn't seem to be the case, whether it's because the movie is too weighted with importance to make it casual viewing, its effectiveness is directly linked to our discomfort or unease watching it, or maybe we just appreciated all there was to enjoy the first time and don't need to see it again to "get it." As such, we've put together a list of personal favorite films that we really don't want to see again, those titles that you go, yeah, it's great alright, but you don't need to subject yourself to repeat viewings to know or remind yourself. In order of ascending importance:
The Exorcist – I actually told William Friedkin I couldn't watch this again because it was so scary, and he replied, "well you should, because it's a good movie." Yes, Mr. Friedkin, that's why I can't sit through it – it's completely, totally effective, thanks in no small part to the craggy countenance of Linda Blair, whose messed-up little-girl face has terrorized me for decades, even in still photos. Shot in that beautiful, horrifyingly gritty '70s style that made even big studio movies look like cheap snuff films, The Exorcist was a film I didn't see until I was 22, mostly thanks to reading a portion of the book when I was 10 that was particularly traumatic, and even as an adult it kept me up for nights. Ironically, of course, my sister told me she thought it was boring, and I guess by today's standards it is; but the sum total of a childhood connection, two decades of buildup and Blair's creepy-ass face has put this film on my must-pass list forever.
Boys Don't Cry – Another terrific and completely effective movie, as all of the ones on this list are. But while the performances, especially from Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny and Peter Sarsgaard, are truly transgressive, and its story is undeniably powerful, I think I feel like I understand its instructive elements about tolerance and the devastating impact of hate-crime violence, much less any other kind, although to its credit none are pronounced or emphatic in a distracting way. Kimberly Peirce made a really, really great film with Boys Don't Cry, but I actually feel that to some extent it really should only be watched once – or at least if you want to watch it over and over, there's something wrong with you. Remembering terrible tragedies is of fundamental importance to our humanity, but this is one best left in our memories, even if the film itself was instrumental in cementing that in our hearts and minds.
Mystic River – In the same year that Sean Penn won an Oscar for this, he gave an arguably greater performance in The Assassination of Richard Nixon, a film that deserves to be revisited (or given its minimal commercial success, visited) as a case study in great acting and a character study unto itself. By comparison, Clint Eastwood's film is a passingly interesting (if deeply depressing) examination of a town in desperate search of emotional catharsis, anchored by a terrific ensemble and a solidly compelling screenplay by Brian Helgeland. Ultimately, however, it's hard to imagine anyone sitting down on a Friday night and going, you know what I really want to watch right now? A movie about some unlucky guy who becomes a town's object of sacrifice because it needs to kill in order to right the moral compass. Obviously I'm oversimplifying its themes, but the bottom line is the movie is depressing as hell, and I can appreciate why it was a big awards-season winner without ever wanting to watch it again.
March of the Penguins – Holy hell, has there ever been a movie that was talked about more, or longer? I think it enjoyed the longest theatrical run since Titanic; regardless it was so beloved that it spawned two different fictional penguin movies and a crapload of other documentaries about arctic animals, none of which were as good. But even as authoritative and insightful as the film is about its subject – thanks in no small part to Morgan Freeman's booming voiceover – when it was over, I was like, yeah, that happened. Personally, I prefer Winged Migration, because it's about a lot of different birds, or even Fly Away Home; but while it was uplifting and sweet and cute and sad and had all of those things that make people ooh and aah at the movies, I don't need to go back to make sure that it's any more adorable than I thought the first time – although it may still be showing somewhere, so this still may be the first time.
Awesome: I F***ing Shot That – Because this more or less qualifies as an experiment, it might be excused from normal, multiple-viewing consideration, but the Beastie Boys' concert documentary and exercise in consumer empowerment is a good example of something that was probably thought of as a really great idea that turned out to be less successful in practice. I say this specifically in terms of watchability; anyone who's seen it knows it's more than a little dizzying given the cameramen and -women's use of consumer-grade HD cameras, which pixilated the 'Boys into oblivion. But that's not really the reason it's a movie I don't want to see again; rather, it's because I think it does work, and that the multiple-perspective approach turns it into something personal for the rappers themselves and the people who shot it, but the rest of it are sort of less involved or invested. In which case, if you were one of the folks who shot it, then I get why you would want to see it again, but personally I prefer to see the Beasties myself.
Dancer In the Dark – I'm not sure I have ever hated a character that I'm supposed to sympathize with more than Bjork's character in Dancer in the Dark. But then again, I'm not sure I've ever liked a movie more from a filmmaker I hated than Dancer in the Dark, either; as far as I'm concerned, Lars Von Trier can stick his dogme filmmaking up his ass – and I wouldn't be surprised if he did. But the power of Bjork's performance, which I actually think was deliberately designed to not curry our sympathies, at least conventionally-speaking, and her music, which perfectly combines that found-sound aesthetic and her own dollhouse-making minutiae, makes this film an amazing and incredibly powerful artistic achievement. But good Lord, man – it is painful as hell to get through, because Von Trier (equally-deliberately) subjects his actors, and his audience, to a challenging inversion of movie convention, storytelling structure, even logical coherence; and while all of that isn't merely admirable, but inspiring, it doesn't make me want to regularly go, oh yeah, let me sit through that experience again.
United 93 – This film is really the reason for this list. I went into Paul Greengrass' film thinking I'd be fine, unaffected, or otherwise free to appreciate and understand what the director was doing when he tackled a docudrama version of what happened on that 9/11 plane. Oh boy, was I wrong; I remember literally saying to myself five minutes into the film, what did I get myself into? The truth is, our feelings about the events that inspired this film have probably not yet been fully examined, or understood; I know mine haven't. but it is a testament to the artistic and quite frankly humanistic achievement of Greengrass' film that it accesses at some deep and unexplained level the precise feeling of wanting to know more, but not know anything about the horrors that these people had to endure. It's a truly great film – one I actually did buy and keep in case I do ever feel like watching it – but for now, I'm still not ready, specifically because it's so freaking good.