It is the journey not the destination (some bumper stickers add the word stupid at the end of it but that seems redundant). This pithy phrase is borrowed from a lot of different belief systems. It has become cliché, however it doesn’t lessen the lesson.
Road movies exemplify this phrase, and that is probably why that particular genre of movies is so popular. We vicariously get to see the phrase in action, and without risk we get to follow someone’s growth and see the person become different. In movie parlance it is described as the arc of a character while in real life it is described as someone growing up or not. That or not seems to be more evident in girl road films for some reason.
Thelma and Louise (1991) is a feminist treatise on how women are belittled in society and so marginalized that when they do fight back they end up having to jump off a cliff into the Grand Canyon. As treatises go this is a good one and done beautifully and really has some fun scenes with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, but as far as road movies go it blows. They had us up to the Grand Canyon, and we were rooting for them to take on more from the road and to break free and make it below the border into Mexico, but the destination trumped all of that thus the destination became more important than the journey, and this is why feminism can suck. We finally got a road movie with two really good actresses and they arc and they progress and then they die.
We watched this movie with our mom and dad in the theater, and when they went off the cliff our dad got up from his aisle seat, with tears in his eyes and said, “Goddammit, I didn’t know they died!” and left the theater. That exclamation says it all. If we are to learn anything from these characters to apply to real life it is this: no one wants to go throughTexas, but if it means freedom and life then you choose Texas. Metaphorically speaking Thelma could not get over her past enough to take care of herself in the present and the end result is the big abyss.
A sub genre of the road movies is the geographical cure movie – and girls don’t fare much better there. Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) is an example of this type, and when it appears on cable it is difficult to turn the channel. Like all fairy tales we are taken in by the magical turn of events, but in this case it is truly unbelievable and it is hard to suspend disbelief. Julia Roberts portrays a woman in an abusive relationship married to a creepy guy who makes her alphabetize canned goods and keeps an eagle eye on the length of the guest towels in the bathroom. To get away she fakes her death by drowning in the Atlantic Ocean and flees to the Midwest. There the light is perpetually early morning sunlight and it is always autumn, I think this is because Julia looks so pretty in browns and forest greens. In this magical place called Iowa she falls in love with the nicest guy on earth. Put the brakes on here, and slow down, because this just became a fairy tale. She goes from a creepy control freak to a cute professor in a span of forty minutes?
Please do not read into this believing that we believe women who have been in abusive relationships can’t meet and fall madly in love with a nice guy. What we are saying is someone got lazy and decided to bypass the whole epiphany experience when Julia’s character asks herself, “Wow, why would I get involved with such a bad person? Could it be I have low self-esteem and need to look at my choices in life and do better by me from now on?” Nowhere in the movie is a self-actualized moment. It is fantasy that someone who was involved with a psycho-canned-goods-alphabetizer would look twice at a cute theater professor who is sweet and nice, unless that someone has done some work. The kicker is it wouldn’t even have to be a major part of the story.
For example, earlier in the film there is foreshadowing by showing the husband straightening the tea towels, and then later in the movie Julia saves herself by noticing in her new soft focus home that her tea towels have been messed with and she realizes her creepy husband is in the house. So, why not pan the camera at the beginning of the movie and show a self-help book or two in the house, better yet show a title or two in her gym bag (like she has to hide this from her husband). Then when she gets to utopia Iowa and her house is all set up (because they spend a lot of time with a musical interlude showing Julia sprucing up her new home) the camera slows for a moment while she unpacks her books and one quick shot of her bookcase filled with Marianne Williamsons’ and Wayne Dyers’ and Deepak Chopras’. All it would take is one panoramic of the bookcase.* That’s all, and now the mystery is solved. She has truly changed her mind thus changing her life. By showing her investment in self-help books we the audience believe she is serious. Now enter cute theater professor and cue up Brown Eyed Girl. I believe.
The Wizard of Oz (1939) is one of my fav road movies ever. And – it has a girl leading the pack. This movie’s destination reinforces the journey’s message which is you can’t appreciate what you’ve got sometimes until you lose it and then you see that happiness truly is found in your own backyard. Metaphorically speaking, and not assuming anyone’s stupidity, let’s expound on that by saying you can take the girl out of Kansas but you can’t take Kansas out of the girl. Or, how ‘bout this one – wherever you are – there you are. Wish you here. Is it better to see life filled with honor and integrity and standing up against tyranny or to see life as boring and always wanting something that is out of reach? Dorothy and her friends had fun while living the life of warriors, and when she woke up from her journey she realized that boring old Kansas was home for the time being so why not find happiness there.
Recent road trip movies I love:
Away We Go (2009)
Due Date (2010)
Cedar Rapids (2011) — okay not technically a road movie. It is a conference movie which has the same elements. Staid lead with a whacky co-lead that helps him loosens up.
The Hangover Movies – (2009 and 2011)
Please give me suggestions for more! (please use “comment” function on blog)
* Why self-help books? Because Kari and I could open a used bookstore with just our cast off self-help book collections.