The Thing I Like About …

Overboard: the part where Annie tells off the teacher.

In Overboard, Dean Proffitt has decided to play a trick on a woman who had been unkind to him; when, after a near-drowning, Annie develops amnesia, Dean pretends to be her husband, and brings her to his house to be mother to his four children. The children are content to play along, since their own mother has passed away. Annie has no idea that this is not her life, and she settles into being a wife and mother, struggling to make sense of who she is and what’s expected of her.

One day, she receives notice from the school that the boys are in trouble; she arrives to find an overbearing teacher, who explains that the children were being disruptive and had therefore been unable to take their assessment tests. The teacher makes disparaging remarks about Dean, and gives unsolicited advice to Annie about parenting.

At first Annie just accepts what the teacher says … but then she realizes that the children are covered with poison oak. Whatever shyness she may have had a moment before disappears, and she confronts the teacher – about the teacher’s astonishing lack of awareness, about just how much the Proffitts’ marriage is any of her business, and about the foolishness of tests that pigeonhole children’s potential. In that moment, she becomes the boys’ mother in her heart, and they can know from that moment on that she has their back.

It’s not just that this scene gives the audience a warm, fuzzy feeling. It’s that in this moment – when Annie takes charge of her life – she accomplishes something that we all too often forget: we have the right – the responsibility – to take control of our lives, to speak up for ourselves, to be advocates for our children. We so easily surrender our authority to those who seem to know more – even if their only credentials are that they treat us bombastically. We forget that every single person on the planet is only a human being, the same as we are, and that if anyone is going to exercise some authority over us, it had better be for a darned good reason.

We end up living with what we allow … and that can be bad for more than just ourselves – those who depend on us to speak for them are left helpless because of our cowardice. But we can create a much braver world, just by remembering what we wanted grown-ups to do for us when we were children.

And then we need to do those things.

The Thing I Like About …

The Possession:  the excellent parenting.

The parents are divorced, and it doesn’t seem like it was a particularly amicable break-up.  It was clearly the mother’s idea for the couple to divorce; she puts a lot of pressure on the father to feed the girls “properly”, and she’s always on the verge of irritation and impatience with him.  For his part, he’s in constant preparation for her to be irritated and impatient and bossy, and he mostly dismisses her.

But in front of the children, they are cordial and respectful.  They each expect the girls to have respect for the other parent.  They trust one another to take care of the girls, and they know the other’s focus is on what’s best for the girls.  When Mom thinks Dad has struck the younger girl (the one possessed), she turns on him without thought – because she puts the girls first.  When she learns that it was actually an evil spirit thing, she doesn’t waste time doubting her sanity, but immediately and without question begins doing a bunch of things that would yesterday have seemed bizarre – because she will do whatever she needs to do for the girls.  Dad knows that he didn’t strike his daughter – so he is justifiably frustrated – but he never blames Mom for turning on him, because he understands that she has put the girls first.  He faces things he would never have thought were real, because it’s his job as a parent.  When he and Mom need to work together for the girls, they don’t hesitate – they’re such a good parenting team that the devil doesn’t stand a chance.

If real-life parents could learn to be half that focused on what matters, it would go a long way toward exorcising some real demons from this world.

The Thing I Like About …

Fringe:  Walter and Peter.

Walter is a mad scientist.  He punches holes in universes.  He talks to the dead after electrocuting them, and creates machines that resonate with all creation.  He makes psychics out of children without their parents’ consent.  He knows about other realities, and people from the future, and, when properly motivated, can even navigate the inner workings of his own chemically-altered brain to find the secrets to salvation.  There isn’t a case he won’t handle with arrogant authority.  There isn’t a person he won’t dismiss as an ignorant waste of his time.  He moves through solid objects.  He walks across dimensions.  He leaves himself clues in history.  He travels through time.  He … knows … everything.

But he doesn’t know how to reach his own son.

With Peter he faces the same problems as every other parent – plus a few extra problems of his own devising.  Walter can’t know if Peter will love him or like him or understand him.  He can’t know if he’s being a good father or a bad father or if Peter is just humouring him.  When things go wrong, he can’t control how Peter will react, or if he will forgive him, or stay with him.  He can control the workings of the universe (or at least he believes he can), but he can’t control the one thing that matters more to him than anything else.  He can do many, many extraordinary things … but he can’t guarantee Peter’s safety or his love.  He just has to do his best, and hope for the best, and see how it goes.

Of course, that’s all Peter can do too.

That’s all any of us can do, no matter what kind of mad scientists we are.

Bit O’Blog

Revisiting The Road

If you watch The Road … well, you might cry a lot.  You might walk away sad or uplifted or both.  If you have children, you may feel differently about it than if you don’t have children.  You may feel strongly about The Road’s message, or you may not be able to relate to it at all – it may seem too farfetched to get emotionally involved. It’s an intricate piece, with a wide range of messages and meanings to offer.  But at the end of it, as I posted a couple of weeks ago, The Road doesn’t seem to be about the post-apocalypse at all.  It’s about a father and his son, and the passing of the world from the older generation to the younger one.

When the Dad gets angry – understandably – at the man who steals their food, the Boy argues with him, as he had once before about the old man with whom the Boy wanted to share their dinner.  The Dad has reason to be wary of strangers – it’s not that his advice isn’t spot-on – but in each situation where the Boy argues with his Dad, it turns out the Boy is right.  The Dad is always in charge and the Boy always respects him, but when the Boy argues with him about these ethical matters, the Dad relents.

So what’s the point?  Well, weirdly, I don’t think it’s particularly about the ethical matters.  The Boy is justified in trusting people who have done him no harm, and in forgiving people whose reasons for stealing from him he readily understands.  He’s justified in thinking that “the good guys” do good things.  The Dad is justified, though, too, in setting boundaries and in keeping his son safe from harm based on his greater experience.  He’s justified in his anger at thieves, and his mistrust of strangers in such a harsh world.  Both make compelling arguments, and the Dad prevails in some things while the Boy prevails in others.  Just like, you know, real parenting and real growing up.

Is the point that the Dad learns from his Boy? – that he learns something about faith, and forgiveness, and compassion from this little kid?  That’s an excellent point, to be sure, and I have learned more from my children than I can say.  Of course the Dad learns from his Boy, because he’s a good Dad and is willing to listen to his Boy … and in the real world, that happens all the time.

In the literary context, though, I think it’s not so much about learning as it is about realizing.  The Dad realizes that his son is making his own decisions about people, about danger, about the rules – not because he’s growing up, but because it’s the Boy’s world to make decisions about.  From the Dad’s perspective, everything he knew is gone, but from the Boy’s point of view, it’s just the world, and the things in it are the things in it.  It’s the Boy’s world, and he prevails in all the arguments that revolve around defining that world, until finally the Dad sees that the world he knew is in the past, and that the future belongs to the next generation.

It doesn’t matter if our world is getting better or worse, or if it’s changing or staying the same.  What matters is that we grow old and die, and new people come to replace us, and it will be their time just like it was ours – they have to build it, and, while we can guide them with a few overarching principals – the “good guy” stuff – it’s really not something we have any say in.

The Dad realizes that, whatever their post-apocalyptic world will become, it is the Boy’s world to shape and define.  When the Dad accepts that he has given what he can, and that the rest is up to the Boy, he is able to find some faith, some trust, some future for his son.  He’s able, in that moment, to put down a great burden.  I think that’s what parenting is all about, and what society is all about, and what The Road is really all about.