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Courtesy of Bad Robot Productions

March 11, 2019

YANG | Remaking Nostalgia

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“I wonder when I’ll stop coming to these movies.”

My friend and I were standing by the entrance to the mall waiting for our Uber when the thought occurred to me. It was a warm evening, and we had just come out of Captain Marvel, all but screaming excitedly at each other as we made our way out of the theatre. The movie didn’t disappoint, and it was both thrilling and comforting, as it always has been, to come back to and discover more about a world we’ve grown to know perhaps as well as the one we actually live in. Yet bubbling under the surface was an anxiety that’s been gradually materializing itself over the past year, that I’ve so far done a pretty good job ignoring — like all good things, this too must come to an end someday, perhaps even someday soon.

“Maybe if the movies after Endgame aren’t as good as we want them to be, or if they try to reboot stuff,” she replied after a minute of pensive silence. The two of us might be what some people call hardcore Marvel Cinematic Universe fans, and cutting ourselves off from this world had once seemed unimaginable. “Even though I hate it when people complain about how reboots always ‘ruin’ the original.”

Reboot. The word struck me, making me think back on an interview with Daniel Radcliffe I recently came across. The interviewer asked Radcliffe whether he’d consider appearing in a Harry Potter reboot, making it sound like a remake is inevitable and not far off in the future. Oh, I had realized with a start, I’ve gotten to an age where I will start seeing things I loved being remade.

What is it, then? What is it about remakes that angers people so much? I’d never given that question too much thought. Some argue that it’s because fans are worried about the new one being unequivocally bad and tarnishing the reputation of the original; some say that it’s because remakes are often made out of recycled material, they bring nothing new to the table and are born out of studios’ desire to capitalize on the popularity of the original.

Yet off the top of my head I could think of a few instances in recent years when the Internet became outraged over remakes and recastings, and none of those seem to fit the above descriptions. Some of them were because trolls could not get over the casting of actors of a race or gender different from the original, for example Ocean’s 8 and Ghostbusters, which are all-female remakes of their original counterparts, and perhaps more famously, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which cast a black actress as the older Hermione. On the other hand, there are remakes that sparked debate precisely because they tell a different story, perhaps too different. The Star Trek reboot, when it first came out in 2011, was pitted against the 1960s original in every possible way, despite being a completely new, free-standing movie. Sure, Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk is nothing like William Shatner’s, but that didn’t stop me from becoming a new fan, having known absolutely nothing about the franchise before.

In the end it all comes back to nostalgia and how having a personal stake often makes our judgement not so sound. It is not to excuse the close-mindedness of being against color-blind casting, or disparage legitimate criticisms. What I am saying, however, is that for the first time I’ve come to understand how much of ourselves can be tied up in films and the fictional worlds that we love.

When I think about Harry Potter I’m also thinking about ten year-old me, knowing barely any English, trying to understand the movies without subtitles. When I think about Marvel films I’m also thinking about going to the movies for the first time in America, about late-night theorizing over bubble tea and making my friend stream the Super Bowl just so I could catch a thirty second trailer. The idea that something we love is ending may be hard, but the idea of it continuing and changing, whether for the better or for worse, is an even harder pill to swallow because we can’t bear the thought of parts ourselves being left behind and some of our fondest memories overwritten.

Is that truly inevitable, though? Is it possible that we have a choice to embrace the changes, to make room in our lives for the new, right alongside the old? After all, it does not do to dwell on old memories and forgo making new ones, to watch the world carry on and let ourselves be borne back into the past.

“I don’t want to become one of those people,” I turned to my friend. I want to be able to watch the Harry Potter remake or see a Marvel movie another ten years down the line, when I as a person have also been made anew, and be able to remember my younger self and say to her: Hey, look at how far we’ve come.

Andrea Yang is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at ayang@cornellsun.com. Five Minutes ‘Til Places runs alternate Mondays this semester.