Are Comfort Movies Dangerous?

New movie trailers often excite us. We find ourselves adding their names to the compiled lists of films we want to see. Yet, when we do have time, we usually press play on something we’ve seen before. Why? Is this action healthy?

Popcorn to my right, remote control to my left, eyes forward, an Oscar-winning film that I haven’t seen before playing on TV. That’s how I wind down on a Sunday night. At least that’s how I want the last day of my weekend to look like. My reality, however, is I start that movie but right as that establishing first shot appears on screen, I establish that I will not be watching it. Instead, I revert back to another film, an old friend if you will. One that has seen me through everything; the good, the bad, the ugly. I laugh wholeheartedly at the same jokes I’ve heard a thousand times before and even act out some of my favorite scenes alongside the cast. Of course, my mind travels elsewhere during the viewing time at least three times as I desperately try to convince myself that Monday is not actually my worst enemy. That is the only task present in both the real and fake scenarios.

But I’ve recently discovered that I am not alone. Many, especially recently, have stayed sheltered in their cocoons of comfort movies instead of venturing further into the cinematic world. And here’s why:

 

It’s Cheaper Than Therapy

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Albina Gavrilovic/ shutterstok.com

It’s been a long day; you’re tired, slowly dying on the inside but trying to keep it together on the outside. How do you do that? Turn to any size screen and escape the stress clouding your life by spending the next 120 minutes absorbed in an imagined world. For severe cases, I would suggest binge-watching a TV show instead, with a mighty tub of ice cream as a companion. But you know what would be even more calming? Rewatching something you’ve already seen before.

You know that the film won’t disappoint and thus you won’t be wasting time on something you might not like. Moreover, watching something you’ve seen before allows you to free fall into the movie and its world, knowing that you have the safety net of previous knowledge. You already know the ending, and consequently, you know how the film will make you feel afterward. This is what researchers Cristel Russell and Sidney Levy refer to as ‘experiential control’ in their study.

In times of change and extensive stress where anxiety becomes a permanent ‘friend’, having control over your emotions and reactions can feel like a gift.

 

No One Wants to Drown in Infinite Choices

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Jimmy Tudeschi/ shutterstock.com

Various production companies decide to put out numerous new movies and TV shows each month to reach a wider audience. To ensure that everyone has something of interest to watch. Ironically it is this decision that results in so many people rewatching old movies and shows.

Deciding what movie to watch can be emotionally draining, especially when you have to make that decision almost daily. It can be even more challenging with series as your decision will result in you immersing yourself in a particular world for at least 24 hours, often from a week to months to even years. Therefore, to avoid the paradox of choice, many do literally avoid making choices and instead go back to what they already know.

 

Hanging Out with Friends Is Always Fun

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PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek/shutterstock.com

Whether it’s forming a plan with Jim and Pam to mess with Dwight, or dancing to Thriller with Jenna Rink, watching comfort movies and TV shows give us the chance to spend time with our favorite people. Well, fictional, that is. The power these movies and series possess is greater than we realize. Not only do they pull us into their worlds, but they actually stimulate our brains through the use of characters and storylines that it becomes difficult to differentiate between what’s real and what’s not.

I know that I always turn to Friends whenever I’m sad or anxious because as soon as an episode starts, I feel like I’m there with them in Monica and Rachel’s tidy apartment, trying my hardest not to spill cookie crumbles on the floor.

This is exactly what researchers Jaye L. Derrick, Shira Gabriel, and Kurt Hugenberg discover in their study. They correlated rewatching TV shows to the need to belong found in every human being.

 

But Are Comfort Movies Bad for You?

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ImageFlow/ shutterstock.com

No… but also yes.

On one hand, rewatching comfort movies and TV shows has actually been proven to be beneficial. The reason behind this is nostalgia. A movie can bring up a cherished memory of yours. A series can remind you of a certain time in your life. When we rewatch something, we don’t just feel nostalgic about the general past, but about the specific memories we wish to relive and the ones we hope we never will. By revisiting our old experiences, we get to say hello to our past selves. Only by doing so can we discover our present selves and see how far we’ve come, how far we’ve grown, and how far our perspective on life and the world around us has changed.

But (oh, don’t be surprised you always knew there would be a but in this discussion) on the other hand, comfort movies and series can be harmful. If your favorite film covers some dark topics and you continuously place yourself in that world, your perception of the world could grow more negative as you become low-spirited with every viewing. Furthermore, when we become attached to a character and see them regularly, as is the case with TV shows, we sometimes begin to unconsciously adapt their characteristics and habits. This can be quite dangerous as at that point of investment we fail to realize that the world they live in is real.

Just like there are two sides to every story, there are two sides to this coin. It’s up to you to decide which one you want to be on. Remember that great things never come from staying in your comfort zone. Who knows, maybe by watching a new movie in a genre you wouldn’t usually watch, you’ll find a new celebrity crush to stalk! But (there comes the but again) also remember that staying in your comfort zone is fine at times, maybe even necessary for your mental health.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a list of great movie recommendations to ignore and my favorite movie to rewatch.

 

Photo: Roman Samborskyi/shutterstock

 


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