You Can’t Repeat the Past (But Hollywood Tries)

The Gospel Coalition | 7/24/2019 | Brett McCracken
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Nostalgia is the only thing going for Hollywood these days.

It’s not a new trend. For decades, sequels, reboots, and franchise expansions have been the film industry’s most bankable bets. It’s likely the vast majority of 2019’s highest-grossing movies will be of this sort: recycled Disney favorites (Aladdin, The Lion King, Dumbo); rebooted horror classics (Child’s Play, Pet Sematary); sequels of various sorts (Toy Story 4, John Wick 3, The LEGO Movie 2); and new entries in franchises few people were probably missing (Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Men in Black International).

Trend - Nostalgia - Subgenre - Movies - Music

Within this broad trend of nostalgia is an intriguing subgenre: movies about music nostalgia. Three recent films in particular capture the trend: Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, and Yesterday. All three take an iconic song title as the film’s title, and all three are essentially singalongs for audiences who grew up on the music of Queen, Elton John, and The Beatles (respectively). Next month another film, Blinded by the Light, will foreground the music of Bruce Springsteen. Doubtless others will follow.

What is it about music specifically that makes us so nostalgic, and why are movies like this—and the “histories” they tell—so attractive to audiences today? What does it say about our culture and where we find meaning?

Part - Audiences - Movies - Bohemian - Rhapsody

Part of why audiences love movies like Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, and Yesterday is that they tell classic rags-to-riches stories (see also: A Star Is Born). They follow a formula that is perhaps especially resonant in today’s “anyone can become famous” age of self-made stardom: Unknown artist catches a break, becomes rich and famous (eventually a global icon), suffers the downsides of fame and fortune, battles demons, creates even more iconic music because of battling demons, and ultimately finds redemption in a rediscovery of the purity of pre-stardom relationships and creativity (e.g. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”).

But...
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