I missed seeing The Incredibles in theaters. The first time I recall watching it was at a friend’s house in mid-April of 2005, everyone soaked from playing with water guns. After wolfing down some hot dogs, we huddled together in front of a cubed TV and pressed “play.” I was hooked from the start. The action and the characters felt so real, so engaging. Dash was my inspiration, and when we finished the movie, I ran laps around the block as I drenched my friends with water.
When did Hollywood learn about nostalgia?
When did it start creating sequels and reboots to bring people into theaters? Don’t get me wrong— I’ll be rushing to see Incredibles 2 when it comes out this week. But, if anyone asks me to summarize the original prior to watching the sequel, I won’t be able to. Those warm feelings of childhood, however, push me into buying that movie ticket.
In the 17th century, nostalgia was considered an illness. On some occasions, it was reported to cause fever and death. Today, to feel nostalgic is to feel lonely and slightly despondent. Nostalgia is a longing for a past that can never be again. Paradoxically, at the end of a “nostalgia high,” we feel better about our present circumstances. We tell stories to frame and organize the world around us; remembering a pet, or a dance, or a vacation can rekindle a desire to keep going.
But, if nostalgia was a disease in the 17th century, today, it’s seen as a commercial gold mine.
“Nostalgia is our reaction to retrieved memories.”
It’s unlikely that movie execs hired psychologists to tell them which movies to make. Nevertheless, producers independently realized nostalgia is profitable. Nostalgia is our reaction to retrieved memories.
However, research shows that those memories aren’t exactly “objective,” but rather reconstructed by our brains. In other words, the past seems perfect in our heads because our brains fashion memories to be re-experienced in the present. Thus, Hollywood isn’t just repurposing old material for brand recognition. It’s trying to convert cozy memories into box office results.
That story I mentioned in the beginning? I reconstructed it from vague recollections. Most likely, none of it is true. I probably saw The Incredibles sitting on a hot leather couch after throwing heavy, water-filled balloons and eating a greasy lunch. And yet, when I look back, I don’t remember images or dialogue. I remember feelings. If subsequent images fit those feelings, I label them as “true.” Hardly very rational.
“Thus, Hollywood isn’t just repurposing old material for brand recognition. It’s trying to convert cozy memories into box office results.”
Hollywood has it all figured out.
Incredibles 2 is another addition to the scores of reimaginings produced in recent years: Star Wars, King Kong, Finding Dory, Ben Hur, Cinderella, The Ring, etc. Don’t get me wrong, the quality of the movies might be great, the screenwriting excellent, and the cinematography top notch.
But, a chance to create something new and fresh is lost.
Will our future selves fondly remember the third Despicable Me or the fourth Star Trek? So, buy your ticket to Incredibles 2 with me. Reviews are already great, so we’ll have a swell time. Just don’t always rely on the past as you look to make the best choices in the present.