A sort of repost from almost a decade ago.
I watched Planes, Trains and Automobiles early this morning, per my Thanksgiving tradition. I still love this movie, one of John Hughes’ finest moments. The reason it really resonates for me is the two central characters. Candy plays Dell Griffiths so well…you really see this well meaning guy who just wants to be included in the lives of others. He is desperate for a real connection. In my life, there are times where I have felt exactly like Dell Griffiths. Wanting to be cared about and loved, but being overly chatty and pushy. Dell begins coming off as an obnoxious chatterbox oblivious to the reactions of those around him. truthfully, you can understand while Neil Page (Steve Martin) begins a mounting frustration with Griffiths. and yet, When Martin goes off on him early in the movie, you see the pain in Candy’s eyes, as if he is hearing every bad thing about himself that he is all too familiar with…and it’s being dumped on his lap. He desperately wants a friend, and yet he sees how he screws it up. And this guy he is trying to become friends with has expounded with painful precision every lousy failure he has.
Other times, I totally identify with Steve Martin’s Neil Page. Uptight, wanting to make things work without interference from the outside world. When he pridefully tears down Dell in the previously mentioned hotel scene, Martin shows great shame after Dell responds. Neil realizes what he’s said was cruel. He’s impatient when life doesn’t go as he planned. Neil does not want to involve anyone in his life not connected to his family. Dell is a pain in the ass speed bump in getting to those thing. I GET his explosion in the hotel. He has hit his limits, and simply does not pause to think about what he is saying and the impact it might have. In a way, I suspect Neil thinks he is doing a favor for Dell. He is telling him what a lousy person Griffiths is for Dell’s own benefit. It isn’t true of course.
The film is really about Neil seeing beyond himself and his life, Griffiths is painfully aware of his flaws, and without Dell, Neil might never have seen his own human failings. It’s a heroes’ journey where the monsters are cars, trains, planes and the elements instead of vengeful gods, kings, serpents and minotaurs.
I want to be Neil Page at the end of the movie…a guy able to connect the dots and exhibit compassion and an open hand…someone who can see the deep seated heartbreak in a stranger and bring them to their Thanksgiving Feast table. Instead, all to often I am the Neil Page of the beginning of the movie. I want to be thoughtful and generous…instead, I am selfish and consumed by worries much of the time. God have mercy on my soul.
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