By Mario Ricciardi
The reality surrounding us at any given moment comes and then infinitely flees toward mere resonance of what that moment was. An entire conversation cut down to one clear image. A full night-to-morning out diluted to only vibrant colors and deep blacks, (and maybe the smell of fireball). Every single hour of every single class you attended; what happened to all that time? All those moments? Life is wispy like that.
When I wrote my first end-of-the-year entry, I promised that I would dedicate every end-of-the-year column to filmmaker John Hughes. Besides, we all saw “Endgame” and it was good, so there’s not much else to say about that.
Hughes was a unique man in both his work and personal life. A staunch Republican, he had as much disdain for the culture of Hollywood as he had love for his craft. Taking his family from the advertising world of Chicago to the unstable world of filmmaking in Hollywood,
Hughes took the risk, worked hard and left an impression the world will never be able to shake.
Hughes’ work predominantly shows that he understood the fleeting urgency of life. A certain Ferris Bueller quote comes to mind. Not so fast though — Ferris is being saved for “Final Review III, A Final Final Review,” which is coming next fall. For this year’s final entry, I wanted to talk about an overlooked Hughes’ film: “Planes, Trains & Automobiles.”
Yes, it’s that semi-sorta-holiday film that never makes it on favorite Christmas movie lists (probably because it’s technically a Thanksgiving movie). It’s that movie everyone has heard the title of, but never seen all the way through. It’s that film whose own marketing people seemingly threw the towel in on, consequently overwriting it as simply a token holiday comedy.
That’s not nearly the case, though. “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” is a story of human capacity. How much can we take? What can we really endure and for how long? But not in a “Rocky” movie kind of way— that’s too easy.
When Rocky gets knocked down, we want him to get back up because we see ourselves as the underdog. When John Candy’s Del Griffith in “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” can’t find the point to the story he has been trying to tell Steve Martin’s Neal Page on a crammed flight for the last hour, we want Neal to knock Del down to shut him up.
Where’s the glory in that? Neal Page is a deeply cynical man and yet, whether you realize it or not, we relate to him for most of the film. Hughes seemingly wrote the entirety of “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” to test how far can he could push Neal Page on his quest to return home to his family for Thanksgiving.
The epitome of Neal’s challenge is the constant re-introduction of Del Griffith, who is an unlucky, vehement penny who keeps turning up in Neal’s comically unfortunate trip. He’s a poignant reflection of our inability to endure life’s nuisances as easily as we will accept life’s blessings, hiding in our phones or tapering the conversation to expedite our way through the awkwardness, shamelessly talking about another person once they’ve left.
What Neal and the audience do not immediately see is Del’s pain. We know Neal is struggling. In fact, he reminds us every five minutes, so much so that it’s pretty much a plot twist to find out that Del has any pain of his own. The true dynamic here is that Del’s struggles are covered up by not only Neal’s cynicism, but also Del’s efforts to help others be happy because he knows his own pain all too well.
Ask anyone familiar with Hughes’ filmography and they’ll say his greatest speech is the one at the end of the Breakfast Club. I disagree. His greatest speech is the one Del gives in the motel after Neal berates him for the better part of six minutes.
“Yeah, you’re right. I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you, but I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings. Well, you think what you want about me. I’m not changing. I like — I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. ’Cause I’m the real article. What you see is what you get.”
Before we make our goal to move forward to conquer the world presently out of reach, let’s take a moment to take care of the world presently around us — the one that has accepted us for who we are and still likes us, the one that’s unabashedly the real deal. From a different perspective, “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” isn’t about Neal learning to accept Del. It’s about Del’s strength to put away his own pain to help someone else with their own.
To humble oneself for others is a truly noble deed, but what is nobility if it’s a status builder. Humility is crucial because our achievements (our uphill battles, our paychecks, our beautiful cathedrals) will always get wisped away in the objectiveness of time. The only thing that truly lasts is how we’ve treated one another.
That’s that for now. See you for one final semester YSU!
“Planes, Trains & Automobiles:” 🐧🐧🐧🐧 (4/5 Penguins)