My college friends and I have two touchstone films–those films that we watched again and again (thanks to that newfangled thing called HBO) and that resonated with us. We still, today, quote lines from these two films to each other, effectively alienating those spouses, children, friends who have no idea what we are talking about, and warmly embracing those that get it.
Which films? Can you guess? I’ve quoted from them both several times on this here blog.
One film is The Big Chill, a 1983 film that was repeated, almost nightly, on HBO by the spring of 1985, the year we graduated. And, somehow, we English, Soc and Psych majors had time to watch the film repeatedly (Kevin Carey, who graduated from the same college a mere 3 years later, has some ideas about while we were able to relax through much of our coursework). In case you were living under a rock on the 1980s, it’s a film about a group of 30 something friends from college are get together for the funeral of a classmate. Clearly, in our fears for the future, my college roomies and I were feeling nostalgic for our college years before we even graduated because we simply loved this film. We had a ritual: we’d all get in our pjs, make some brownies or cookies, famously humming as they got closer to being cooked, partook in some recreational enjoyments, and then sat in our usual spots in the small living area waiting for the movie to begin.
What was it about this film that moved us so? The characters didn’t necessarily reflect us since we were a good 12 years younger and had no idea what we were going to BE in our 30s. I suppose one of us was on her way to becoming the Nick/William Hurt character: a brilliant drug dealer with some issues with sex, but really those issues were a Jamesian wound from Vietnam, and we certainly weren’t facing any possible war in 1985. And maybe one of us, admittedly me, was definitely on track to becoming the powerhouse professional Meg, but I was quite clear, even then, that I didn’t want kids, and all the women characters either had kids or, like Meg, desperately wanted kids.
Except for the 20 something Chloe/Meg Tilly, who found the suicidal Alex/Kevin Kostner’s body in the bathtub, and eventually went to bed with Nick/William Hurt. We all wanted to be her, but she was a bit too new agey and lithe–we were none of us her.
So what I think we liked the most about the film were the lines. This was definitely a common conversation in our rented house on weekend mornings:
Michael: [Michael enters the kitchen, sees Sarah standing in front of the open refrigerator] You know, that’s the problem with these things. You have to watch them every minute.
[Takes a small carton of milk from the refrigerator]
Michael: Oh, hey, did I miss Karen and Richard?
Sarah: No, just Richard; Karen’s staying for the weekend.
Michael: But not Richard?
Sarah: Went back to be with the kids.
Michael: Oohhhh, interesting. What did Richard have to say about that?
Sarah: Michael, if you’re going to sleep this late, you’re going to miss a few minidramas.
Michael: I just hope you’ll wake me for anything really ugly.
And, as several of us were English majors, we cracked up easily over this one:
Sam Weber: [Sam enters a room where Nick is up late watching TV] What’s this?
Nick: I’m not sure.
Sam Weber: What’s it about?
Nick: I don’t know.
Sam Weber: [Sam shakes his head, pats Nick on the shoulder, then sits in a nearby chair] Who’s that?
Nick: I think the guy in the hat did something terrible.
[shot of TV shows a man being thrown through the glass window of a door]
Sam Weber: Like what?
Nick: You’re so analytical! Sometimes you just have to let art… flow… over you.
[Sam rolls his eyes]
But this one made us nervous:
Sam Weber: Hey, Nick? You know, we go back a long way, and I’m not gonna piss that away ’cause you’re higher than a kite.
Nick: Wrong, a long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time; you don’t know anything about me. It was easy back then. No one had a cushier berth than we did. It’s not surprising our friendship could survive that. It’s only out there in the real world that it gets tough.
Several years later, when we were all in the midst of graduate school, we’d still watch the film together, and by then our favorite lines reflected that reality:
Nick: [on not completing his PhD at the University of Michigan]: I could have. I chose not to. I’m not hung up on this completion thing.
But the film I’m thinking of this week, as it gets closer to New Year’s Eve is When Harry Met Sally (1989). My college friends and I also watched this movie many times, even though by the 1990s, when it was available as a video, we no longer lived together. Two of us were married, two of us were living with boyfriends, three of us were living within a few miles of each other in Brooklyn. My favorite visual scene in this movie, one that I reenacted each December, was when Harry and Sally buy a Christmas tree and drag it along the streets of New York to their apartment. The Woody Allen-esque autumn in Central Park scenes are lovely also. Now that I live thousands of miles away, where the trees are always the same damned green color, watching that scene has become a tear jerker for me.
But in the early 90s, the film’s power in its depiction of the struggles between men and women, friendship and marriage, for professionals in their 20s and 30s–the same age we were, going through similar issues.
I’m thinking of it this week because it’s almost new year’s eve, and the party we were so looking forward to attending has been cancelled because of a death in our host’s family–an issue not really addressed in either movie, neither of which shows mothers, fathers, grandfathers, siblings, or any other family tie but spouse or friend. The pivotal scene is when Harry finally confesses his love for Sally during a New Year’s Eve party:
Harry Burns: I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.
It was so romantic then, and it still is. But I am thinking of those two films, and their contexts for me, because I’m feeling somewhat edgy, nostalgic, at a loss this new year’s. Grumpy even. Old. Not entirely content.
Happy New Year? Yes, it will be. An end of year self reflection isn’t a bad thing especially with images from these two films to accompany my thoughts, films that I know are now dated, that no longer have the same impact on me except in retrospect.