When it was released in 2012, Cloud Atlas was received with widespread disdain. Whilst the complicated plot seemed to serve its original novel format very well, as a movie, many complained that it simply didn’t work. Having to interweave multiple storylines, character roles and time frames within the space of one film just didn’t seem to be possible. It’s little wonder, then, that the film spans almost three hours, the directors struggling to cut it down to the nitty gritty in any time less. However, a few months later, alternative reviews started to trickle in to public opinion here and there. Not only was the film “not so bad” but it turned to actually be “very good indeed”. Complications and apparent oversights which people complained about in the first viewing of the film were straightened out on second or third viewings. The problem with the film was not that it was nonsensical and childish but rather, that you had to view it a number of times in order to get everything from it that you needed to.
Of course, films like this are all well and good but when you’re in the cinema, it isn’t comforting to know that you need to invest a number of subsequent viewings to get a film’s full potential. There is a certain market out there for movies like this, however and if you’re prepared to consider these types of films as more like books, then there is a great potential for them.
Films to see more than once may seem infuriating at the time but slowly, eventually, we grow to love them as their directors intended us to. Like a good book or a fine wine, they age over time and show the most interesting parts of themselves only to the most persistent.
The Tree of Life
Where Terrence Malick fares, a disclaimer is always necessary and whilst you may be completely averse to the director’s work, if you’re new to cinema, he is certainly worth checking out; more than anything, so that you can find out which side of the camp you fall on. Malick’s The Tree of Life, whilst proving divisive to audiences around the world, fell more often into the positive side of the argument. The narrative is deceptively simple; following the life of a family after they lose one of their sons in the war, the film presents the passing of time as a blur, dipping into individual familial events here and there. It’s hard to get attached to the characters because of this but if you’re willing to keep going, the film is incredibly gratifying. In Malick’s visuals and use of sound, there is something much deeper to be said and whilst it takes a few tries to get there, it’s worth it in the end.
As if you haven’t already seen Fight Club. The film is perhaps one of the most viewed (and subsequently spoiled) films of all time and whilst you might already know the conclusion before you start watching it, it’s still worth reconsidering. Although it is on the first viewing of the film that we experience the “ah-hah” moment in full force, it is on subsequent viewings that we can really appreciate the intelligence and complexity of the movie. David Fincher has an eye for hidden details and there seems to be no limit on the amount of times that you can watch Fight Club.
The Big Sleep
Based on a famously complicated (although not as complicated) novel, The Big Sleep is notoriously difficult to follow, despite its apparently simple setup and conclusion. Set in the heart of the film noir tradition, the film stars the ultimate detective figure, Philip Marlowe, at its heart. Although things are packaged rather neatly in the end, there’s a huge number of twisting narrative threads in the middle which are left floating into nothingness. Of course, the major pull of the film is the relationship between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall which seems to be played out right before our eyes. So far, I’ve seen the film four times and have read the book twice. I’m no closer to understanding it. But when you have Bogart and Bacall, who cares?
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
And whilst we’re on that note, Tomas Alfredson’s retelling of John le Carré’s spy thriller requires at least three viewings to even begin to understand the most simple of its plot lines. Set in Cold War London, the narrative unearths a mole in the heart of British security and one man’s fight to identify him. Simple enough, really. When you really get into the film, however, it turns out that everything is not quite so simple and what we thought was a question of good and bad is revealed to be somewhat more muddy. Whilst it is densely complicated, the film is a sheer delight to behold and even though it might require any number of viewings to really understand things, it’s always a pleasure to watch.
Whilst multiple re-viewings can apply to pretty much all of David Lynch’s filmography, Mulholland Dr. is a great movie to watch multiple times. Two women come together to try and uncover the mystery of one of the pair’s identity. Set away from the smog and fog of Los Angeles, the film has a consistently dreamy quality, becoming more prominent throughout the film. Whilst the set-up may seem deceptively simple, it is marked by hallucinations, dream sequences and monsters; you are never entirely sure what is real and what is not. According to Lynch, it is possible to solve the mystery of the film, if you’re willing to put in the legwork. Things which seem to hold little significance in the beginning turn out to be integral to the plot and it is only on subsequent viewings that this becomes apparent. For complications, misdirection and cinematic bluffing, Lynch takes the prize and it’s worth considering the fact that, maybe, he doesn’t want us to solve his riddle.