Monday, January 2, 2012

The Zoo In You

Animal - Neon Trees (mp3)
Hospital Food - David Gray (mp3)


My 10-year-old daughter sat on my lap. My 11-year-old daughter sat in the chair next to me, her head comfortably resting on my arm. We were huddled together in the darkness of the movie theater, watching WE BOUGHT A ZOO. And a boy on the screen drops the BS Bomb at high volume.

The boy, played by Colin Ford, screams at his Matt Damon father at the climax of a long-time-coming father-son argument. When he screamed out that agonized and angry invective, the entire packed audience gasped.

Whoa whoa whoa... this is a family movie! Precious little 6-year-olds were in there with their mommy or daddy to watch the cuddly zoo animals. Where’s Kevin James and all the cute animal fart jokes? These families didn’t come for a movie about a dead mother (not a spoiler) and an angsty teen son who curses at his dad.

Typically, when my kids and I co-witness scenes with sexuality or language, I self-consciously attempt to break the tension in some small way, or at least acknowledge that there’s this odd awkward thing going on. (Whether this is the proper thing to do matters not; it is what I do.) But in this scene, in this intense moment between two men in agony, I just kept them close.

I spent a majority of time in that movie fighting that gaspy shuddery rickety method of Weep Minimizing, hoping to prevent the eye trickle from becoming a full-blown flood. In a movie full of these moments, the fight atop the stairs was the toughest to get through.

We’ll be there one day, I thought. In a matter of years, if I’m lucky, I’ll be in the midst of verbal fisticuffs with one or both daughters that leaves both sides exhausted and defeated and emotionally bloody.

“We Bought A Zoo” has received lukewarm reviews from critics for understandable reasons, but it’s clear none of them watched with their children. It’s a family movie, not a movie for critics sitting alone. As such, it often goes a few extra steps in spelling things out along the way.

There’s almost a direct inverse correlation between the movies my kids enjoy and ones that receive critical acclaim. The movies critics love are, often, just a pinch over their heads. The plot is a bit too complex, or the relationships a bit too nuanced. What 10- and 11-year-olds need is a little bit more blatancy in their cinema. Critics seem to forget that. Or not care.

It’s the same reason many of the best middle school teachers are a bit cartoonish and two-dimensional, whereas teachers of juniors and seniors need to be more complex.

If critics would pull out of their own private screening room on occasion, they might see movies a bit differently.

All I know is that, when watching this movie while in actual physical contact with my daughters, all possibilities of the past, present and future of parenthood and childhood felt alive within me.

What if my wife died tomorrow?
What if I had died two years ago?
What if one of my children was hit with a fatal illness?
What if we all manage somehow to survive the next 30 years? (Isn’t that the least likely of all? Isn’t that horrifying?)

At the heart of the movie is how we cope -- or fail to cope -- with death and its inevitability. Matt Damon’s character refuses to let one of the elder animals fade, and he’s willing to spend whatever it takes to keep the animal alive, despite the advice of his animal expert (played by the yummy Scarlett Johansson). At first she’s respectful of his wishes, but she gets increasingly vehement that letting the animal die is the right decision and best for the animal.

Such a simple and obvious decision when it’s an animal. So much more complicated when it’s a person. And my wish, as I watched this movie, was that by the time my bell begins to toll, the experts and my loved ones treat me more like the animal.

Maybe my opinion will change over the next 20 years, but at present, it’s not death I fear. What I fear is a life of prolonged and extensive pain and suffering that bankrupts my family in the process. To die, to slowly break the hearts of those I love, and to drain every last penny on my way out. That’s a horror story.

Happy New Year!!


Sara C said...

Amen and amen, Billy. I haven't seen this movie, but I completely agree with your desire to avoid bankrupting your family. I think of that bankruptcy as so much more than the financial aspect, too. A prolonged illness leaves everyone emotionally and mentally drained as well, and it is definitely something I wish to avoid. By the way, in case I haven't said it in awhile: I love the way you love your kids. Just sayin'.

Billy said...

Bless you and thank you, Sara.

Is it weird or good that we -- the people who think there comes a time when prolonging life becomes unhealthy and irresponsible -- are the bad guys? It sure feels like it, anyway.

Daisy said...

I haven't seen the movie, but think about these types of issues quite a lot.. I have been fixated on life insurance most recently. The responsible ones are always the bad guys aren't they?