Saturday, December 4, 2010
Christmas is my favourite time of year, not because of family or presents, but because of tradition and nostalgia, and even if real occasions do not repeat themselves the way you want or remember one aspect that cannot change is the movies. My visual Seasons Greetings commences with Planes, Trains and Automobiles and ends with Home Alone. As you can see the late John Hughes has a heavy influence here as he was ther master of occasion, teenage and family ambiance that now plays as a nostalgic shock for millions on a universal level. I heard at one stage from a critic that what made Frank Sinatra such a great entertainer is that he could come out on stage and make people feel like they were in their living room, I contend that the same goes for Hughes and his movies.
I will begin with Planes, Trains and Automobiles, probably Hughes' opus and is my only recognition of Thanksgiving since I am Irish. We have witnessed the grouch and jolly combination before, but this meeting goes much deeper than any other comedy has done before it. We recognise TPA as a formula buddy film until we are in the motel room with the grouch, Neal Page (Steve Martin) and the jolly, Del Griffith (John Candy). Neal is impatient and intolerant, where Del is a "chatty Cathy" and accidental prone. Due to cancelled flight from New York to Chicago they are forced to spend an adventure together in order to get home for Thanksgiving starting with nights sleep in a Wichita motel. Eventually Neal explodes into a rent of fury exposing Del's weaknesses and bad habits. This is the best scene if the movies by far as the audience realise that they are not going into a routine narrative with typical characters. This scene is enhanced to greatness by Martin and Candy's acting and the ghostly, yet uplifting score that seeps in when Del retaliates.
The journey to Chicago is occupied by distrust, departures and a few reunions that are standard buddy comedy methods until a simple and poignant scene in a cabin motel, where Neal and Del share some mini liquor bottles and dedicate them to their wives, who they will grow old with. With the ghostly score creeping in the background during Candy's screen time and the face he pulls off during the dedication to the wives we should really understand what is going on here. It is not until Neal is on the local train back to his home that he begins putting the pieces together while he replays his journey with Del through his mind. He returns to Del, who admits that his wife has been dead for eight years and he doesn't have a home. Neal realises by this stage how lucky he is and how thankful he should be. Neal invites Del to his home for Thanksgiving and the film ends with a freeze frame of Del's smile.
I am still trying after years to decide whether this is a happy or sad conclusion. Neal is kissing his wife in his big house with loving kids, while it seems like Del forces a smile, but is in tremendous pain and probably quite jealous of Neal's life. Hopefully that is not the case, but that thought has always stuck with me at the end of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Regardless, John Hughes' masterpiece remains a staple in my possible unhealthy load of traditions leading upto Christmas Day
Posted by Cormac O'Meara at 12:37 PM