Fast forward 120 minutes later. I'm in tears. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an absolute masterpiece. There's so many hauntingly beautiful visuals and devastating reveals. The acting is incredible. Why didn't I like this movie when I first watched it? Was an idiot? Was I not paying attention? I started thinking about this phenomenon a little more in depth. One of my favorite parts about film is that we as viewers get to bring our viewpoints into the experience and make our interpretation through our own lens. When my wife and I saw Annihilation last year, we both walked away with different conclusions. I'm a much different person now than I was when I saw Eternal Sunshine in 2010ish. Maybe I wasn't ready for it back then. Maybe having some more life experience has allowed me to feel for the characters sense of loss in a relationship. Whatever it was, I'm glad I watched it again and had the experience.
This isn't the first time that I've changed my opinion on a film. Swingers is my most notable example. Swingers is the quintessential break-up/post-college guy movie. My first watch was when I was in college and had basically no dating experience. I thought it was unfunny and dull. Fast forward to my second year of law school. By that time I've had some dating experience, some heartbreak. I'm trying to find my place in the professional world. After reading a great oral history on Grantland, I decide to give it another shot. This time, the movie is a revelation. Every pain that Mike (Jon Favreau) is feeling, I can now identify with. I see Trent, Sue, and Rob in several of my friends. The humor and the banter is now making me crack up. Swingers came out in 1996 and didn't change. But now this movie that I had written off as "boring" is one of my favorite films of all time.
I think this is why I love movies so much. When done well, they are a piece of art to engage and move the viewer, just like any painting hanging in The Met. Fight Club, (500) Days of Summer, Blade Runner, and The Boondock Saints are all movies that I had a materially different experience upon subsequent viewings. Some I just enjoyed more (Blade Runner). Others I came to a different conclusion as to their themes and interpretations (Fight Club, (500) Days of Summer). And finally, there are some that I at one time loved, but now scratch my head as to why I ever did (Boondock Saints).
So what's the lesson? If there's a movie that you didn't like on your first try, but someone you know is a big fan, don't be afraid to give it another shot. The movie certainly hasn't changed, but maybe you did!