BY Lynne Tillman in Film , Opinion | 01 JUN 19
Featured in
Issue 204

Lynne Tillman on Rewatching Her Favourite Movies

‘Movies don’t change, and I do, and I don’t. Memory isn’t a choice and, like everyone, I forget way more than I can recall, necessarily.’

BY Lynne Tillman in Film , Opinion | 01 JUN 19

Lying in bed, propped up on pillows, I watch The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) for the tenth time. I waste time. Knowing I waste it, I still find comfort in re-watching; knowing what comes next doesn’t bother me, it consoles me. I may feel something like boredom but also comfort. I’m attached to the movie, the screen, as if it were an old friend, because it is. I grew up with television and movies, did homework with the television on in my bedroom, and also escaped my parents.

The ‘Bourne’ movies thrill because of the chases, the fast cutting, hardly any dialogue, and Matt Damon’s bland or enigmatic face, its obnoxious or cute upturned nose. Playing Jason Bourne, Damon performed astounding feats that belie his cuteness. Mostly expressionless, he could seem stern. When Damon played a corrupt cop, as he did in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (2006) – watched five times – his improbable nose augmented his subterfuge. 

I have rewatched Blood Diamond (2006) several times. Leonardo DiCaprio, its star, convinced me that he’s an alienated diamond smuggler, a slimy, sexy guy who bleeds to death, talking on the phone to the woman he loves. Love and death, nothing better. Plus, he had saved a child. I fall for that. It’s typical, sadly.

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972), a bildungsroman of the Mafia, has more story than most of the films I rewatch – in its entirety, eight or more times. The Godfather’s allure lies in its actors’ brilliance – Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, the ensemble – the cinematography, immigrant story, a family romance, loyalty to the clan. 

I first devoured that family romance in Luchino Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers (1960) and saw it in a movie theatre three times. Before then, I never had seen men embracing, crying and loving their mama beyond words. Finally, though, this hardcore, postwar, neo-realist film, and the poverty and despair of its downtrodden family, denied me any pleasure. Also, there were no reruns on television.

Daniel Day-Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans, 1992, film still. Courtesy: Morgan Creed Productions 

I avidly followed HBO’s series The Sopranos (1999–2007), which played for six seasons. Early on, Tony Soprano’s sad, troubled side moved me more than his ugly side; later, he repulsed me. All the major characters, even some minor ones, transformed during those years. They were thoroughly developed, investigated and psychologically embroiled with each other. I can recall individual episodes, chapters in a serialized novel, but the show doesn’t cater to revisits, doesn’t bring comfort. To burst into Carmela Soprano’s first and only session with a Freud-look-alike psychoanalyst would be like reading a few pages from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866). Pointless. And, I can’t return to The GodfatherThe Sopranos killed the Mafia movie romance.

In The Last of the Mohicans (1992) – six times – Daniel Day-Lewis saved almost everyone. But his sublime performance in Phantom Thread (2017) has diminished my desire to see Mohicans again. Even I, emotionally labile in front of a screen, can’t easily flip from Day-Lewis as a manly Native American to him as an effete British fashion designer.

During the past 15 years, children have often been kidnapped in movies, or lost then rescued, or killed and avenged, as in the Taken series (2008–14) starring Liam Neeson. In Man on Fire (2004) – watched five times – Denzel Washington was security for a rich little girl, Dakota Fanning. She gets kidnapped by a Mexican gang lord. He rescues her and dies after returning her to her anguished mother.  

Rewatching, I’m not after surprise; I suppose that’s obvious. Rewatching evinces a repetition compulsion. Repeating scenes of painful events to have them undone, to see children, especially, saved from harm – that’s kind of pathetic. But the pattern is obvious: good triumphs, melancholy attends and there’s some bizarrely athletic heroism. I don’t feel nostalgia for my past: it wasn’t better, I was just younger. Good winning over bad, right over wrong – I’m nostalgic for that.  

A hoarder keeps everything to stop time. I hold on to letters, manuscripts, postcards, pictures, ephemera, and have an archive at NYU to prove it. I also lose things, toss stuff out by mistake. Mostly, I don’t know I am letting go of something or someone. Things change.

Movies don’t change, and I do, and I don’t. Time obliterates ‘I’ll never, never forget this’ into a silly idea. Memory isn’t a choice and, like everyone, I forget way more than I can recall, necessarily. Otherwise, my life would be entirely on rerun.

This article first appeared in frieze issue 204 with the headline ‘Bedtime Stories’

Main image: Alain Delon in Rocco and His Brothers, 1960. Courtesy: Alamy Stock Photos 

Lynne Tillman is a writer. Her most recent title is Mothercare (Soft Skull Press, 2022). In 2025, Soft Skull Press is publishing a book of her selected stories titled Thrilled to Death.