Opening up the Netflix app, my face is immediately lit by the glow of hundreds of unwatched movies staring up at me. After scrolling through every imaginable genre, searching for a new show to binge, I ultimately end up reverting back to Gilmore Girls—a show I’ve watched countless times before. I relax into the plush comforter of my bed, a warm cup of tea in my palms, as I sing along to the opening notes of Carole King’s “Where You Lead,” familiar faces flashing across the screen.
When the credits die down and the camera pans out to reveal the show’s title, I begin to wonder—why, with all the media available to me at the click of a button, do I continuously find myself returning to shows and movies I have already watched?
The answer to this question lies in the psychology behind what is called “comfort” media. A comfort movie is a film that draws upon a viewer’s sense of nostalgia and the positive emotions they have subconsciously attributed to a movie. Just as the name implies, this form of media serves the purpose of providing an audience with a feeling of comfort and escape from the stress of reality. Movies associated with nostalgic feelings are inherently tied with a longing for the past, which is what makes them so attractive to individuals who are not satisfied with their current situation.
Rewatching a comfort movie also provides a sense of familiarity that often manifests itself as a coping mechanism. When faced with the uncertainty of life and the inevitable changes that come with time, comfort movies are seen as a constant that can be trusted to deliver. Having watched their favorite movie or show dozens of times already, an individual doesn’t have to experience the anxiety of wondering what will happen to their beloved characters. Instead, they feel a sense of control they may lack in their personal lives. Along with this, comfort films are trusted to grant the instant, familiar feeling of comfort an individual has come to expect, solidifying their reliability.
Of course, the concept of what defines a comfort movie is a subjective one. This is because comfort media is so closely tied with nostalgia, so what a person claims as a comfort movie or show is highly dependent on their own personal past experiences and emotions. For me, The Karate Kid, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Little Women are my go-to comfort films. While these films are unique in subject matter, what unites them all are the feelings of warmth and ease I experience when watching them, like being embraced by an old friend.
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