Watching all these Christmas movies has got me thinking about nostalgia. Often especially during the holidays we can get accused of liking something ‘for nostalgia purposes only’. Everyone is guilty of this for one reason or another, but I often find there is more to the story than the accusation would suggest.
What is nostalgia? Well, it is defined as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations”
So for example I lived for 3 years with 2 roommates in the basement apartment of a house. We had many good times at that house and when I drive by it I am often overwhelmed by nostalgia for that period of my life. Now those friends have married and I don’t see them as much as I would like. It is a time in the past that I miss and look back fondly on.
I’m not a psychology expert. but I think nostalgia is actually healthy as long as it doesn’t make us forget the blessings of the present because we are idealizing the past. I did that once on my mission where I moved to a new area and all I could think about was how life changing the old area was. My companions had to sit me down and say ‘Lafayette was great but we’ve got to work here now in Indy”, which I did and it was awesome!
That said, it is good to be able to look back at our lives and remember the good times. Remember with fondness all the love and happiness we shared, especially if those people have passed on. So nostalgia can be quite powerful and motivating in our lives.
But let’s stick to entertainment. Like experiences, we can also have nostalgia for films. A particular movie meant something to us or is associated with an era or person in our lives, and so we remember it with ‘wistful affection’.
I believe if you enjoy the movie it doesn’t really matter whether it is nostalgia or not. It’s kind of like taking a placebo for depression. If it helps your depression who cares if it is a sugar pill? Better is better. Enjoyment is enjoyment.
The only difference is it is usually impossible to pass on that nostalgia to other people so it can feel frustrating when they do not share your ‘wistful affection’. In fact, it can even seem insulting because the film and the time in your life are so interconnected insulting one, feels like an insult to you and your moment in time.
Here is a funny clip from my favorite show How I Met Your Mother about when people don’t get your nostalgic movies (excuse the bad clip but it will give you the idea)
There is however a distinction I would like to make:
In nostalgia we have 2 kinds of experiences. The first are films that really aren’t good that we have nostalgia for. The second is films that are good and were important to us in the past (probably because they are so good)
For example, many people have nostalgia for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, ET and The Goonies. Those are all legitimately good movies that I remember fondly too. Whereas, say someone has nostalgia for Howard the Duck? That film doesn’t have the same inherent quality of content argument as Star Wars…
Here’s some examples from my life:
Cutting Edge vs Footloose- Both of these films would be considered by me as ‘sleepover movies’. They were the kind of movies my girlfriends and I liked to watch at sleepovers. Other favorites were Dirty Dancing, Fame, Grease, Dance with Me, Bring it On, Save the Last Dance (dancing in general was a popular theme of these sleepovers for some reason). The Cutting Edge is a silly movie that I have nostalgia for. It’s completely predictable and stupid but it’s about the Olympics that I love and skating and there is pretty good chemistry between its stars, but it would definitely be a bad movie I have nostalgia for and enjoy (I have it on blu-ray!).
Footloose on the other hand I also have nostalgia for but I actually think is a good movie. It is well written with an interesting discussion about religion, safety, freedom of choice and some terrific choreography and music. I watched it again not that long ago and was surprised how dark it gets. All that definitely went over my head but I liked it then and I like it now. Definitely a good nostalgia movie.
Beverly Hills 90210 vs Boy Meets World- We were not allowed to watch 90210 when I was a kid because it was considered too adult by my Mom- probably rightfully so. But nevertheless I have a certain nostalgia for it. When I could sneak it I enjoyed it and I enjoy it now even though it is totally soapy and stupid and poorly acted. It went on for like 10 years and especially near the end when I was on my own I really got into it even though I knew it was kind of terrible.
Boy Meets World on the other hand I was allowed to watch and I sincerely think it is a great show. Yes it is extreme cornball but it has such heart, it teaches good messages, has an appealing cast and the acting is not half bad. I love it and I love Girl Meets World, so it’s good nostalgia in my book!
Clueless vs Girls Just Want to Have Fun- We’ve got two more sleepover movies. Girls Just Want to Have Fun is a stupid movie about girls who want to make a dance show (again with the dancing!). But I still enjoy it. It’s charming in its own way and has an appealing cast. Definitely bad but I enjoy it for nostalgia purposes.
Clueless on the other hand is the nostalgia movie of my high school experience, and I think it is one of the best written comedies ever made. It makes me laugh to this day. Things like Cher’s speech on the Haitians and the garden party or the scene where Dion drives on the freeway for the first time crack me up. I have strong nostalgia for it but it is also genuinely a good movie.
Some might claim they can be more objective than those of us who have nostalgia for films or shows, but I don’t think that is the case. If I acknowledge I have the nostalgia and can say if it is good or bad despite my sentimental feelings how is that not the peak of objectivity? I am able to look at it and say ‘I love it but I know it isn’t very good’. That is objective! If I tried to defend it as good when it really isn’t than you’d have a point. If I like something on this blog because of nostalgia I will tell you. Like I admitted upfront I was going to have a hard time reviewing Little Mermaid because I am sooooo attached to it and it meant so much to me as a little girl. I still think I was objective but maybe not as critical as I was on things that didn’t have the same personal value. But that is the exception to the rule. Most films I look at with the same perspective and eyes and can objectively say whether I like it for nostalgia or other reasons.
Just to sum it all up- we all have movies that are nostalgic for us when we watch them. They remind us of eras of our lives, particularly childhood and if we enjoy the experience of watching them than who cares? Enjoy watching them for whatever reason you want. Just don’t expect others to experience the same whimsey and delight. Also, there are films we have nostalgia for that are actually good movies and others that are pretty bad. It’s important to see that difference and not discount something merely because it is a sentimental favorite.
Especially at Christmas many of us have nostalgia for It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, Christmas Story and Christmas Carol etc but those are great movies so watch and remember all the good times you’ve had over the holidays with these wonderful nostalgic movies.
I will add too that Perks of Being a Wallflower is the first movie I’ve seen as an adult that felt really nostalgic for me, so nostalgia doesn’t have to be a movie from our past. It could have been filmed in my high school amongst my friends and I LOVE it so much. I saw it at least 5 times in the theater because I kept taking my friends, twice in one week. It spoke to me and excited me in a way no other movie has in years. I think the writing is great, acting great, and the story is so moving, funny, sad, scary, just perfect. One of my all time favorites. Definite nostalgic but still very good movie!