Repetition compulsion

Why do people watch the same movie over and over? For pleasure, no doubt, and because a great movie like a great book or piece of music doesn’t reveal everything on a first or second or nth go-through. But then some repeated viewing habits sound a little pathological. Like the guy in Norway who saw “Mama Mia!” 162 times. Given the film’s opening date in that country that means he must have seen “Mama Mia!” twice every day. I made it through a complete screening without walking out only because I felt professionally obliged. The CIA might want to look into this as an enhanced method of interrogation.

And how to explain the “High School Musical 3” phenomenon? It topped the box office at $42 million last weekend. Most of the tickerts were apparently bought by grade school kids watching the film over and over again. From what I’ve heard from parents, this is common behavior regarding this series. The kids are compelled by peer pressure or cathode rays or some subliminal Disney magic to compulsively watch. It’s as insidious as advertisements for sugar products on TV. Eye candy, indeed.

Most disturbing, however, is the repeat business for “Saw V.” It placed number two, taking in about $30 million. Again, I barely sat through “Saw I.” The others seem to be minute variations on the same themes of entrapment, ingenious torture, certain death, all rendered with (for me) excruciatingly graphic detail. All I can suggest as an explanation for the appeal of this kind of entertainment, this need  that can be fulfilled only by repeated consumption of horrific imagery, is to refer to Freud’s notion of the repetition compulsion, or the recurrent nightmare, in which traumatic memories (or anxieties or repressed desires?) are reworked by acting them out in metaphoric or imaginary versions in order to attempt a mastery of them. Or maybe, as Freud dourly suggested, as a surrender to the allure of Thanatos, the Death Wish. For me, a second viewing of “Mama Mia” would be enough for that.


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