On my flight from Minnesota to Berkeley as I prepared to move out to California, I decided, in a self-referential move, to watch the coming-of-age movie “Dazed and Confused” on the small Delta screen. The movie follows a cadre of teens as they prepare for different stages of their life: entering high school, starting senior year and graduating. How relatable. Hoping to imbue some sort of meaning onto my own journey, I settled in.
I watched the movie again after my sophomore year, trying to reconcile the change and uprootedness I had felt for the last 12 months. And on the cusp of junior year, I watched it yet again. This time, I’d given up on trying to dramatize myself, and I settled in instead to enjoy the soundtrack and laugh along with the fast-paced rhythms of Richard Linklater’s Texas town. I never really found the solace I was looking for as a dreamy freshman, but now there’s a sort of nostalgia in every viewing. I remember what I had been looking for in the movie two years ago, but now what I take from it has changed.
Movies are my own vantage points into the past. Rather than the photo albums my mom meticulously keeps or the half-scribbled-in diaries I sometimes find around my childhood room, movies are access points from which I can tap into my past. Like a book marked with notations, thoughts and underlined quotes, movies are often how I remember a feeling, a place or a transition in my life, like starting college across the country.
On family road trips as a kid, my sister and I used to watch VCR tapes on a portable television strapped with a bungee cable positioned on top of the car’s center console. We rotated through a remarkably consistent collection of tapes, watching the same movies over and over again on each trip. Crossing the distance through the mid-Midwest, it was always the same scenery outside and the same scenes on the screen in the confines of our Honda Odyssey. There was definitely a period of my life in which I could recount the plot, scene-by-scene, of “Rugrats in Paris: The Movie” (can’t shake the memory of that bright orange VCR tape).
The clunky portable television was later swapped for an equally clunky laptop on car rides that my sister or I would balance on our knees, first fighting over who would hold the entertainment and then over who got the best angle of the screen.
We would repeat randomly chosen lines over and over, creating jokes out of totally irrelevant pieces of dialogue until they’d devolve into incomprehensible but — definitely — hilarious bits. The words we’re actually saying don’t really make much sense anyone, but they take us back to a time and feeling of when they did.
It’s also family lore that I was obsessed with the movie “Tarzan.” In 1999, as a two-year-old, I saw the film in theaters upward of five times in the span of a month. Every member of my family was tasked with taking me to the theater for yet another showing of the movie. The rotation grew weary as I clung to the purpley cushions, crying as the movie credits had started to roll. Even after the movie left theaters, I continued my fascination with a VCR tape that I could watch over and over, pressing play and rewind on my favorite parts.
Now, when I watch that movie, it’s a strange feeling of familiarity and dissonance. Who was this tiny person almost 20 years ago; what did they see in 90 minutes of Phil Collins-soundtracked Disney animation? I kind of know, somewhere abstractly, but I also don’t.
In college, there’s a lot of talk about finding yourself and discovering who you really are. I think this is often a loaded endeavor, but I find that watching my favorite movies is a good point from which to take stock and have some healthy self-reflection.
For the last couple of years on the dot, I watch the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” usually sometime during winter break back home. I remember every time I’ve seen it, the particular feelings and setting in which I watched as Oscar Isaac plucks out “Fare Thee Well” in a olivey-lit bar.
It’s a grounding feeling, to watch the scenes and rhythms of dialogue that I know so well play out. It’s a sense of comfort on the screen, a gauge by which to take in what’s changed and what’s the same. Maybe by next year, the swell in my chest at that scene will quell, and that’s OK. Maybe I’ll just watch an entirely different movie. Either way, it’ll be there if I choose to press play.
Off the Beat columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion columnists have been selected.