Some of my earliest memories are made up of watching movies. Watching the same scenes from Pretty Woman over and over to the delight (followed surely by mind-numbing irritation) of my father, or seeing Raiders of The Lost Ark for the first time (and proceeding to cobble together my best cosplay outfits for years to come). Or later, being introduced to the wondrous intensity of Jurassic Park; or even later still, when my parents agreed it was okay to screen my father’s favorite film, a twisty crime thriller in which they said “fuck” an awful lot (The Usual Suspects). These were the movies that made me, shaping an appetite and affection that has informed a significant part of my identity, and it is largely thanks to my father.
In spite of our shared adoration of the silver screen, our relationship was rocky, more often than not. Movies came easily, but mostly everything else did not. We were both hot-tempered, reluctant to give in, and struggled to find a common language beyond the cinematic. Many of us wrestle with the legacy of our parents, either in attempting to live up to them, or in trying to escape their shadow. For much of this writer’s life, it was the latter pursuit that took precedent, as only the young can operate with the kind of certainty that they know better than anyone who came before.
In the years that we spent apart (emotionally, if not always physically) there was no single profound moment or gesture, but there was plenty of art (if my father gifted me with movies, then surely it was my mother who showed me the wonder of reading) and it was those experiences that taught me the power of empathy, gave me catharsis, and ultimately, pointed me toward understanding and forgiveness.
Last year, when this writer sat down to watch A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, there was some expectation that it would be a facsimile of the 2018 documentary on Mr. Rogers, a warm and lovely exploration of a man who built a career, and indeed a life, based on kindness and compassion. Instead, the relationship between Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) and Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) in which the latter encourages him to mend and forgive his estranged father felt intensely personal, as if (director) Marielle Heller had held a mirror up to my younger self. It was an experience to be held close, not one to be shared, and for several weeks after the notion of writing about the film seemed too daunting, too close to my real self to share, and yet the idea remained insistent.
As a writer, language is not something that typically feels that challenging, and yet it is still difficult to talk about these things. For some men, it is difficult to speak frankly to one another or even about one another (even one as emotional and communicative as this one) which is ultimately the reason it was important to try. Our cultural notions of manhood have often come with harmful baggage and expectations, and it is necessary for those who are able to deconstruct them to also be willing.
Several years ago, my father and I began to reconnect. It was not marked by any particular occasion or event, and like most things, it took time. Real life is rarely neat, and memory is nothing if not unreliable, all of which is to say surely there were other steps along the way, but what stands out to this writer now was the same as before: the movies. The movies were neutral ground, a place where we could go to experience wonder and laughter, or pain and glory, all in the safety of the narrative. It was an experience we both valued, where we could share something ineffable without words, something which had rarely come easily to two stubborn men, anyhow.
In time, we discovered a common language, one that allowed us to talk (and in some cases, laugh) about our painful, difficult road to the present, where our relationship is on healthier ground. Time played a part in that process, and so did growing up, but it was the movies that helped us get there; the very same thing that brought us together in the first place.