As I watch Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots for the second time, I find myself somewhat disappointed in the mid-film reveal; I know what will be said, and I expect it with a level of tiredness. The magic of the first viewing, where the twists and turns of three lives are engagingly unexpected and hilarious, is seemingly gone, instead replaced with a subtle predictability. It makes me think I like the film a little less.
The nearly three-hour film may have stayed the same, but the viewing experience has not. This time, I watch it with my
brother, a complete alien in the world of Indian cinema. He’s sat with me rather unexpectedly (though admittedly, thanks in part to my insistence it was one of the “greatest films ever”) and I’m eager to bring him into this world. As Farhan (R. Madhavan) and Raju (Sharman Joshi) invade the supposed home of Rancho, a gun is pulled on them.
“This is a good part.” I say, turning to my brother.
I’m eagerly anticipating the outrageously funny sequence involving a father’s ashes and a toilet bowl, and can’t wait for my brother to see it. I didn’t think much of it then, and it’s only during a later sequence that I realise what I’m doing.
Raju’s fall from a third story window is shot tragically; it’s an emotional sequence that heavily weighs on the viewer given the earlier events in the film. My brother is caught completely off-guard as these events occur and is unsure what to make of them.
“Don’t worry,” I said, “It’s got a happy ending.”
It suddenly hit me how good this second viewing is. The film itself is secondary to the experience, acknowledging the great parts and laughing about the strange ones.
I rewatched David Lynch’s Rabbits last week. It’s a nonsensical surrealist horror, but I can’t help but understand more of this world. The principal characters speak in riddles, delivering unusual and ominous dialogue that haunts me for hours after viewing. The second viewing does nothing to diminish my haunting fears, and as of writing, I still cannot listen to the soundtrack without instinctively shivering. There has been a change, however, an intensity to this horror that was absent before , and it makes the viewing experience even more intense in its dread. I know what’s coming, and I prepare myself for it, but there’s no point. Rabbits intensifies with the second watch, creating a greater horror than what Lynch intended the first time viewer to see; I am buying into this experience, and I can only shudder as I think of the effect a third viewing will have.
Unlike films, video games are very good at retaining the ‘first-time’ feeling. With such a ridiculously vast amount of outcomes in modern video games, even a shooter with two-dimensional characterisation and a truncated campaign can re-invest players easily. “Did you explore every area?” or “I wonder what this weapon would do if I combined it with this one.”. Tragically, the first viewing of a film is far more sacred; it’s an eye-opening experience with details that can only be noticed when you’ve nothing to anticipate. Once you’ve done that, once you’ve viewed the film with it’s incredible plot twists or magnificent performances, you can never do so again; it is forever doomed as a repeat viewing, as if you control an omniscience that refuses to let you experience originality again.
Consider those behind the camera. Directors make films for the first watch. They edit, change and modify the film so that the fresh audience behaves exactly as they would like. The second viewing is given little to no thought, despite the quality or complexity of the plot capable of being jeopardized by an audience aware of the outcome – think of spoiler warnings, media blackouts, actors being given only fractions of script. Would you have gone to see Avengers: Endgame if you sat down with a clear understanding that Tony Stark dies? Why do people re-watch it on Disney’s streaming service then?
I ask that you consider the second viewing as a new experience, not a re-watching; a film only fails if you do not engage with it. Contrastingly, a film you choose to see multiple times should be rewarded for retaining. What one rewatches can change vastly. My first viewing of 3 Idiots was for personal entertainment, whilst the second was a chance to show (and show off to) my brother. Other films with such deeply-rooted plot twists can give a fresh and interesting take once you know what it is; why do you re-watch The Empire Strikes Back, knowing Darth Vader is indeed Luke’s father? Why would you ever choose to watch Fight Club, since you already know Edward Norton and Brad Pitt are two minds in the same body? In a sense, you begin again, re-evaluating and watching a new take on an old film. Take something as straightforward as an easter egg even – it commands you to look out for new details, within the same frame. I offer a new awareness, a more academic thought, be given when watching a film for the second time – no longer consider it as a mindless activity, but seek to look at it through a new lens.
Edited by Barney Nuttall, Film and TV Deputy Editor