I fell in love in Paris. It happened in a fourth-floor walk-up with high ceilings and beautiful brown tile floors, with a Juliet balcony and bookcases poking out of every nook and cranny. The August nights were hot and muggy, and there was little for us to do other than lie awake in bed, waiting for morning to come. One night, however, a breeze cooled the living room enough for us to watch a movie, so we pulled the projector from the ceiling and began clicking through Netflix. We arbitrarily picked a movie, and my tumultuous love affair with Good Will Hunting began.
I should preface this discussion by noting that I have a weakness for inspiring, fatherly Robin Williams. Just a glance of his salt-and-pepper beard and soft, kind eyes brings a lump to my throat. The famous “O Captain! My Captain” declaration and mournful bagpipes of Dead Poets Society make my heart ache. No matter how empty or sad I feel, Robin Williams seems to speak right to me, saying just the right thing to make me feel better.
So when he appeared in Good Will Hunting as a widowed therapist helping Matt Damon heal his wounds and move on, I was screwed. I fell head over heels in love with floppy-haired Will Hunting, cried when the “it’s not your fault” scene played out, and finished the movie with a full heart. Good Will Hunting is my comfort movie. It makes me want to fall in love and be stupid with my friends and experience the world with zero fears and regrets. It’s the movie that introduced me to director Gus Van Sant and his wacky, ultra-indie films, and to Damon and Affleck and their incredible success story. Movies like Good Will Hunting make me want to make movies.
I watched the hell out of that movie. Feeling sad? Good Will Hunting. Needing a laugh? Good Will Hunting. I watched it so many times that I actually got sick of it. The performances weren’t as hypnotizing, and the ”it’s not your fault” scene just didn’t hit the same. I also had the startling realization that “Good Will Hunting” is a ridiculous title. What the hell is it supposed to mean? Is Will Hunting good? Is somebody searching for good will? As these things go, my love of the film dimmed, and I moved on.
Then it happened again. I was in the Paris Theater, Manhattan’s last single-screen movie theater. It felt like the perfect place to experience a perfect movie.
And the movie was perfect; it had me whipped from the first piano note. From the bright yellow opening credits to the heartbreaking closing scene, Call Me By Your Name was dreamy and beautiful, a tale of love that could warm me up on the coldest, loneliest days. The film made me long for summer and drowsy days when I could read at the river and ride my bike around a quaint European town. In Call Me By Your Name I found my favorite movie, crippling wanderlust, and Timothée Chalamet (whom I love despite his problematic pandemic vacations with morally questionable actresses). I left the theater feeling blissful and melancholic, walked all the way home in a daze. For weeks, I fell asleep to the soundtrack (pathetic, I know) and watched endless cast interviews in hopes of getting enough closure to move on with my life. Except I couldn’t make myself move on, so I just kept rewatching until I had totally exhausted myself with the movie.
I’m sure I’m not unique among movie lovers in that I judge movies based on the emotional response they stir in me. The wave of emotions that followed my viewings of both Good Will Hunting and Call Me By Your Nameblinded me. As time goes on, you gradually stop thinking about the movie, and as a result, you feel it less and less. It happened to me when I watched Titanic at age thirteen: I was in mourning for weeks following my viewing of the movie, but now I look back on that time and think, why the fuck was I so affected by that unrealistic, ridiculously long, and overly romantacized portrayal of a tragedy?
My dad always tells me that life is too short to watch the same movie over and over again, and I, a chronic re-watcher, used to laugh that off. But now I’m with him; there are millions of incredible movies out there waiting to be discovered and loved. I found that when I stopped obsessively watching the same movies over and over again, I had the time (and the emotional availability!) to connect with new ones. Ever since this epiphany, I’ve fallen in love with Good Time and Almost Famous and found a new favorite movie in the incredible, beautiful, sad American Honey. And you better believe I won’t be watching them again.
Illustration by Gabriella Shery