Already seen it?

Revealed below are some mild spoilers for the 17 year-old movie Magnolia.

Sitting in a group meditation last night one of the extended trains of thought I jumped on was: What does it mean when we say about a movie, “I’ve already seen it.”?

Trying to choose a movie, scrolling through the endless seemingly bad choices, sometimes with someone else, recurring comments internal or external are Nah, seen it. Saw it. Already saw it. Already seen it.

It came up for me last night because I watched Magnolia the night before. I had “already seen it,” twice. Opening night (in NYC) on December 17th, 1999 or something like that, and then on New Year’s Day (we survived Y2K! Let’s see a three hour movie!). Leaving the theater that first time, flying solo, I had one of those moments of not being sure what just happened. That rare instance of being slightly stunned after an emotionally stimulating concert or film, and it sticks with you for a couple days, or more.

Watching the film this most recent time, I remembered three specific things from 17 years ago: the scuba diver getting scooped up by the fire plane; Tom Cruise’s opening seminar lines; and the frogs. That’s it.

More vaguely I recalled the opening sequence regarding coincidence, that there was some sort of long tracking shot in a TV studio involving child quiz kids, and William H. Macy making a scene in a bar.

Of course I remember Aimee Mann’s soundtrack, but that wasn’t because I saw the movie. At the time the movie came out “One” was inescapable.(What I didn’t remember was how good the score was. So tense.)

Beyond that, I didn’t remember anything, it was like I was watching the movie for the first time. I had forgotten entire storylines. Yet I had “already seen it.”

Last week I watched Chinatown for the first time in six years, second or third time ever. (What a movie. Screenwriter Robert Towne’s insight into his inspiration is worth a read.) Same deal – I remembered a few scenes, two of which because they were in a documentary about cinematography called Visions of Light, which I’ve seen a few times.

So: “I’ve already seen it.” It usually translates to, “No, I don’t want to watch it again,” but why is that? If a movie sucked, I get it. But what about all the good or great films? Does it mean that I know the ending? Or does it mean I think I remember 90% of it clearly, so it’s not worth my time? Or…what?

In 1999 my dad was alive and relatively healthy. Three years later he was gone. A significant part of Magnolia is devoted to a dying man / father-son relationship. In the 15 years since my dad died I’ve had moments similar to events in the movie. Totally different meaning now.

This me saw that movie for the first time.

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