Why do we find comfort in re-watching our favourite films?

March 1, 2022

Collage created by Sadie with photo of woman by Yuliya Kosolapova and couple by Erik Mclean from Pexels

Jess Thomas-Iganski and Sarah Hussein explore the reasons why curling up in front of our best-loved shows is therapeutic

It’s not unusual for us to seek out a sense of comfort in places, food, or people. During the pandemic and with the harsh lockdowns however, films seem to be where more of us are turning to for that sense of comfort and safety.

Although, for each person the favourite film may differ, the warm, secure feeling we get is a universal experience. We asked each other about our best comfort films:

Sarah: I love Little Women. That’s it, that’s the movie. Like I don’t know, I adore everything about it, even the sadness of it. The main character Jo is so loveable. She’s bold, brave, and authentic.

Jess: The Hunger Games is my favourite. Yeah, I get that it may not be comforting for everyone, but somehow it is for me. Katniss, the main character is inspiring with her strong resolve, independence and yet she’s also compassionate and loyal. ‘Coraline’, its creepy and cool and I can’t help re-watching it.

Regardless of the genre, whether it be comedy, drama, sci-fi or horror, we seem to find comfort in the fact that we know how the movie ends more than anything. In a News 24 report psychologists have suggested that those who suffer with anxiety or depression may find comfort in re-watching a film. Knowing the storyline allows you to be prepared for what’s coming. Not everyone likes a surprise or plot twist.

It’s thought that familiar things are easier to process, and that we tend to develop preferences for things if we’ve experienced them previously. This has become known as the ‘mere exposure effect’ by scientists. You can read more about it here.

This calming feeling of re-watching movies has been named ‘experiential control’ by researchers Cristel Russell and Sidney Levy in an article on Patient.info. They claim it provides emotional regulation; seeing as you know the ending already, you also know how it’s going to make you feel.

Sarah: Why do you seek solace in films you’ve already seen?

Jess: I feel there’s a lot happening for everyone now, especially for teens during the pandemic, I guess. It’s nice to retreat and just find comfort in something familiar. It’s therapeutic don’t you think?

Sarah: I agree, I don’t like a film that disappoints or leaves you feeling dissatisfied, it genuinely is an unpleasant feeling. Also, I like very ordinary movies, right? Like where it’s not boring but nothing too significant happens. Normal life is relatable and comforting.

Jess: Yes, like ‘Ladybird’?

Sarah: Yes! I love that film so much!! How many times have you watched it?

Jess: I know it’s great, I’ve watched it at least 30 times. I feel like it’s so many of my friends’ best comfort film now. It creates a bittersweet feeling and sense of nostalgia, and everyone relates to at least one of the relationships in the film.

Movies can typically trigger a happy memory or time, and nostalgia may be part of the psychology behind comfort movies. Re-watching a childhood favourite repeatedly transports us to a happier, safer time in our lives, as well as providing a sense of hope for better times ahead.

A recent study in Science Daily discovered that nostalgia could manifest itself physically as warmth and comfort.

Jess: The ‘Twilight’ series are some of my favourite films. Twilight was one of the first films I remember watching and being totally absorbed in growing up. It reminds me of cosy evenings at home with my family, with the cold and rainy weather outside making me feel even more safe within the warmth of my living room. I feel compelled to watch it every autumn.

Sarah: For me too. I love the rainy, autumnal weather and the evocative dense forests. The scenes are often lit with blue tones, which make me glad to be inside in the warm. Even the clothes in the films are strangely comforting; not something I tell many people though, can’t be a self-admitting ‘Twilight’ stan!

Ultimately, comfort films are a form of self-care. Watching them is a way to relax and recoup. So, when you next find yourself returning to the “watch again” section on Netflix, whether you are seeking comfort in familiarity or revisiting happy memories, try not to feel guilty. It’s good for you and you’re not alone!

Jess studies English literature, Psychology and Philosophy at Woodhouse College. She enjoys reading, writing, playing music, and rewatching her favourite films – some of which include Fantastic Mr Fox and Miss Stevens.

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