I found myself flipping through the channels this evening, looking for something interesting to watch. Wading through the multitude of offerings that is modern-day cable television, I ran across The Graduate playing on AMC. A thought ran through my head: this is a classic. While I have not seen the film in upward of a decade, I do remember admiring its complicated narrative, its intricate cinematography, its nearly perfect soundtrack. The TV info bar validated my thought, with 4 stars stamped next to the title. I quickly recalled a recent viewing of (500) Days of Summer, which referenced the movie in what I thought to be an intriguing way. All of these factors coalesced into a desire to tune in and watch the film again.
Quickly, my mind then contradicted my impulse, reminding me that I had already seen this film and shouldn’t waste my time. We have but one life, after all- why take any portion of that precious little time watching something I have already seen? Just at that moment, I had a thought so compelling that I felt it necessary to obey those impulses and watch the film:
I have never experienced this film.
The above statement may come across as a bold-faced lie, a complete contradiction to every word that preceded it. But I believe it to be absolute truth. And yes, I do remember seeing the film. Oddly, I remember that night like it was yesterday. I was a college student, living in a friend’s apartment over a summer between leases, working in a record store and writing album reviews for a local magazine. Just before going to bed at some ungodly hour, I saw Dustin Hoffman’s face flash across the TV screen and thought, “Is this The Graduate? People say this is good- I might as well see what the big deal is.” I really enjoyed it, and have since brought up its multifaceted closing scene in multiple contexts.
So then, why would I say that I have never experienced this film? If we consider our true selves to be a conglomeration of our past experiences, then the me who exists today has not taken in this film. Since the night I watched this movie, I have traded in the student role for that of a teacher. I graduated college, and have since helped students on their path to get there. I have moved three times, and changed jobs twice. I have fallen in and out of love multiple times, and have now found someone with whom I look forward to spending the rest of my life. We have two dogs, two car payments, and a mortgage. And, perhaps less importantly but just as true, I have since seen (500) Days of Summer, as well as dozens of other films and stories that have referenced this movie in some way.
In short, the me who exists today- he who has lived through these times and countless others- has never experienced this film. What will I pick up on today that I would have never noticed when I first saw it all those years ago? It dawns on me today that there are no repeats: tonight’s experience will be wholly different, because I am different (as is the world around me as I interact with it).
Teachers, I hope you will keep this apparent contradiction in mind the next time one of your students looks at you and says, “I did this already in (insert grade here) – why should I do it again now?”