Revivals and remakes have been part of popular culture for decades, and in recent years there have been more than ever. Films such as Jurassic World (2015) and Ghostbusters (2016) were both produced over a decade after the original movies that inspired them. Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, released in episodic form thirteen years after Brad Silberling’s film, is another example of a revival. We’ve seen Andy outgrow his childhood toys and leave home for college in Toy Story 3; Bridget Jones struggled to balance a successful career and an unexpected pregnancy in Bridget Jones’ Baby; a new season of X-Files aired after a fourteen year hiatus.
Those who didn’t watch Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (AYITL) might have at least seen the excitable comments from fans or the Twitter mayhem caused by the finale. The extreme reaction was not only towards the cliffhanger ending, but the shock that main character, Rory, returns to her mother’s home following a career slump. Younger viewers admired Rory in those first 7 seasons as she juggled life at an Ivy League University with internships, relationship problems and more. Now 32 years old, the character’s current life wasn’t what many fans expected from the driven young woman we’d grown up with.
I, too, experienced this initial shock, but found myself comforted by the idea that a fictional character that I look up to undergoes the same struggles as we real modern people. We all talk about influence on young people from films, TV shows and video games, but the comforting advice we receive as adults is equally important.
Southampton University has conducted studies showing that experimentally induced nostalgia ‘increases perceptions of meaning in life and gives a sense of existential comfort’. A revival can reassure us that, even if someone is hard-working and successful, their life is by no means perfect.
A Year in the Life didn’t only feature Rory. Lorelai Gilmore, now 46, is coming to terms with the loss of her father, and considering raising another child with Luke. There is the grieving process of Emily Gilmore. These are struggles we can all relate to.
In December, according to Symphony Advance Media, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life secured nearly 5 million viewers between the ages of 18-49. The three generations of women in the series appeal to a broad age range, and offer viewers not only a nostalgic glimpse of the past but a reflection of where they may be now.
As Executive Chair for East Kent Mencap, Claire Holding supervises the care of young people with learning difficulties. She told me that revivals inform the level of trust we place on companies to provide appropriate content for younger and more sensitive viewers. Parents are more likely to allow children to watch The Snowdog or Disney’s Finding Dory when they can use the original film as a benchmark.
‘I know if I leave the room nothing inappropriate – sexual or violent, etc – will be exposed to the person watching,’ says Claire. ‘It’s the same as sticking to a reliable brand and receiving the same type of service or product.’ Claire and her teenage daughter, Faye, could both imagine themselves being in the same situations as the characters. Claire says the Gilmore Girls revival explored the complexities of having an intelligent daughter, and the close mother-daughter relationship portrayed in the original series reflected her lived experience as a single parent.
As seen here, revivals have the potential to connect generations. My own mother might not understand Snapchat or the ever evolving world of memes, but an evening spent together watching Gilmore Girls allows us to both enjoy the same themes and ideas.
Harry Goldfinch is a commercial music student and member of the Star Wars Society at Canterbury Christchurch University. He says he owes much of his Star Wars obsession to the music. He feels ‘nostalgic’ on hearing the theme from the original movies, reproduced recently in The Force Awakens and Rogue One.
In 2007, Janata, Tomic and Rakowski studied the effect music has on us using both laboratory experiments and questionnaires. The results showed the areas of the brain that process memory responded strongly to familiar melodies. For many people, their emotional response to music is nostalgia. Revivals don’t just stimulate us visually; classic theme songs evoke warmth and reminiscence.
Harry also says that fans rejected the Star Wars sequels because they didn’t like the changes made to the originals. Star Wars has a growing audience, especially with younger viewers – in fact, Disney have begun building Star Wars -themed lands in their parks that are due to open in 2019. There is a lot of pressure on creative producers to strike a balance between new and old.
The 2016 Ghostbusters reboot took a revisionist stance by exchanging the all-male cast of the 1984 classic with female actors. In 2018, Ocean’s 11 will be remade as Ocean’s 8 with an all-women line-up. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women led 29% of 2016’s top 100 grossing films, a 7% increase from 2015. Clearly the film industry is becoming more diverse, inclusive and equal, and revivals are becoming a vehicle for delivering that progress.
Revivals can also inject a text from a previous historical moment and inject it with a current socio-political resonance. Van Norris, senior lecturer in film at the University of Portsmouth, said to me that the Battlestar Galactica revival made allegorical nods towards the political climate of the early 21st century. Through the character of President Roslin, whose actions mirrored the actual US response to 9/11, viewers could reflect on decisions made by leaders during real-life wars.
Dr Norris told me that, in a world of ‘hyper-fragmentation and endless consumer choices, the revival can be a doorway into something new that producers are hoping to perpetuate.’ He praised JJ Abram’s Star Trek reboot and its ability to be fresh while explicitly linking back to the 1960s series. ‘Many people watch shows as a kind of snapshot that takes them back to specific feelings and times.’ Van himself related to this through his affection for the James Bond series and the ongoing Star Wars saga. Battlestar Galactica and AYITL are solid demonstrations of how a revival offers something recognisable while introducing newer elements.
Alan R Hirsch, in his report ‘Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding’, says that nostalgia is ‘a yearning for an idealized past’. In psychoanalysis, this is called ‘screen memory’: combining different memories and filtering out negative emotions to recreate and capture a ‘sanitised impression of the past’. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life constructs new obstacles concerning grief and loss alongside reassuring similarities to the original series: late night gossiping between mother and daughter, town meetings, and visual cues such as Luke’s signature blue cap.
A recent article in the Guardian, ‘Look Back in Joy: The Power of Nostalgia’, explores how nostalgia has become a popular academic study. Dr Tim Wildshut, associate professor in psychology at the University of Southampton, says that nostalgia is a positive thing for most people; it can provide optimism for the future, and help people evaluate situations and respond accordingly. In short, looking back can be a healthy act.
Wildshut also mentions nostalgia-based therapies being developed for illnesses including depression and even Alzheimer’s disease. Regarding nostalgia as a positive mental tool certainly gives us another excuse to cosy up in our local cinema with an excessive amount of popcorn and catch up with old friends.
There is great comfort in returning to your favourite characters, whether they are a Gilmore or a Princess on Alderaan. We can learn from their shift to the current time, see life through a different lens, and draw strength from their battles so we can better face our own.