Shamefully, Limitless (2011) is my most-watched movie. I must’ve been 11 when I first saw it in theaters with my dad. We got it on DVD in the early-to-mid 2010’s, and I recently bought it on Prime Video for $9.99. It’s the kind of movie you realize is sorta shaky on the drive back from the theater, but which is nonetheless fun the whole time you’re watching. And it’s the kind of movie I can’t stop rewatching. I’ll probably rewatch it one or two more times this year. There’s a good makeover montage, there’s catchy dialogue that’s so catchy it draws attention to itself, and the movie does a not-bad job at realizing the smart-drug fantasy. It’s a pretty good time.
So I’ve been watching this film a few times a year for the last ten years, and it’s been a mundane, unexamined piece of my life until like a year ago. There was a day in quarantine when I was writing (typing)—probably something for some college class—I was writing and after a few words I could feel my fingers gravitating towards the Limitless protag’s Sorkin-esq way of speaking. It was sort of creepy and ethereal; the pull wasn’t from the original words, but from like their grammatical bones. It usually takes me a few disparate pockets of suffering to get something ok-sounding, but acquiescing to that syntactic skeleton’s alluring pull got me a few valid sentences real effortlessly. That short burst of writing felt how I’d maybe expect Divine Inspiration to feel. The whole thing’s marred by the divine source being a commercial film which itself was based on a commercial novel, but I think it’s weird and interesting that something as abstract and ineffable as inspiration might’ve come from something as banal as watching the same movie over and over and over.
And maybe it’s not the rewatch qua rewatch that matters. I’ve recently read Infinite Jest (who reads IJ and doesn’t talk about having read it), and after 981+97 pages I’ve found a few Wallace-isms that I’ll probably end up sort of affecting. Like how he—after bridging into a long-winding parenthetical to give backstory or like the corporate history of some product—he repeats the sentential subject, which sort of gets rid of the need to reread the pre-parenthetical. Or how he employs, like, a certain piece of colloquial syntax to ease into abstract descriptions. And that’s just some of the effable stuff. The sheer length of the work maybe gives your cranial pattern-matching machine a large enough dataset to pull something meaningful out. Instead of rereading or rewatching, you’re reading one writer’s style for an extended period—it’s like the longitudinal analog to the cross-sectional reread.
I think the reread and the rewatch might have an epistemic function that buys you like a semi-tacit linguistic knowledge of authorial style. I think reading a lot from a single author serves a similar function. Or listening to an audio book on loop, etc. Anything to embed those grammatical structures deep into your gray matter. But maybe pick something other than Limitless (2011).
P.S., re Limitless: why does Lindy get back with Eddie at the end? There’s that whole scene where she leaves Eddie because he's changed since taking NZT. And now at the end he’s running for president and speaking Chinese—even if he’s telling the truth to Van Loon and he’s off NZT, he sure isn’t acting like old Eddie.
P.P.S., it admittedly feels somewhat head-in-the-sand-ish to talk about only formal aspects of IJ, especially when its content is so proximal to the idea of rewatching stuff. It would be funny to make fun of me for being a catatonic cartridge-viewer or for being like Steeply’s M*A*S*H-watching dad.
P.P.P.S., from Douglas Hofstadter's GEB: “Perhaps works of art are trying to convey their style more than anything else. In that case, if you could ever plumb a style to its very bottom, you could dispense with the creations in that style” (167).