There's nothing quite as bittersweet as reliving the pop culture of your youth. On the one hand, childhood movies are a portal back to a time when you thought the world was fair and good and that dreams could come true. On the other, they'll make you realize that the dog puppet at the end of The NeverEnding Story wasn't really that scary at all.
I MENACINGLY FLAP MY MOUTH AT YOU.
This isn't limited to movies you loved as a kid. As you pass college age and journey deeper into the dark, shrieking void known as "Pretending to Be a Responsible Adult," your old favorite movies change even more. For example, you'll start to notice that ...
#5. Heroes Can Be Really Irresponsible
If you're like me, you routinely spend part of your annual Christmas season watching Die Hard. Also, if you're like me, most of those Christmases in the past have been spent cheering on the movie's hero, NYPD cop John McClane. (Yeah, kill those terrorists, John!) He's not one of those losers who sits around doing nothing while hostages are threatened or wants to negotiate like a tiny baby. Nope, McClane gets shit done and just starts killing -- the way you would if you were put into the same position.
How It Changes
But something starts to happen as one's Christmases come and go. Whether it's all of the real terrorist sieges you've seen play out on the news during your life or just your own experiences with life's unintended consequences, you start to ask: is John McClane really the good guy?
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And what if my family really doesn't like my cranberry-and-garlic eggnog?
After he sees Hans Gruber's gang of terrorists executing a hostage, Mr. Takagi, McClane goes wild, picking off terrorists one by one and ignoring the pleas of the professional counter-terrorism experts to let them handle it. And, of course, McClane turns out to be right: the terrorists planned on killing all of the hostages, and his murder-actions are effective in saving them.
But step back from cinematic happy-ending conventions and ask: how easily could things have gone differently? What if Takagi was the only guy Hans and company planned on killing? How could McClane be sure that Hans wouldn't react to the dead terrorist in the elevator by executing random hostages every five minutes until McClane gave himself up? The terrorist siege could have just as easily ended with a lawsuit against the NYPD, with McClane in court and facing the tearful family of that woman whose boobs we see at the beginning, asking him why he taunted the terrorists into shooting their daughter in the head.
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Sgt. Al Powell was tragically killed by a flying Christmas tape dispenser.
#4. High School Movies Become Unbelievably Poignant
When looking at a lot of teen movies -- behind the dated fashion and awkward jokes about losing one's virginity -- you'll spot an underlying assumption: that the injustice of one's teenage years will somehow be automatically righted once your time in high school is over. The 1998 movie Can't Hardly Wait comes right out and says it: in the epilogue, the unpopular geek character becomes a supermodel-banging millionaire, while the cruel jock ends up overweight and working at a car wash.
Because I wasn't popular for most of high school, I took it for granted that movies like this had at least a grain of truth to them: once high school was over, I assumed, everyone's fortunes would change. The jerks would all be unsuccessful, while black-clad outcasts like me would finally get our time in the popularity zone. Everything would somehow right itself, thanks to this external force of teen-movie justice operating in the world. It was a life-size version of the gambler's fallacy.
How It Changes
There's no denying that sometimes this does happen. There are plenty of guys out there who peaked in high school and now make minimum wage unclogging the urinals at strip clubs, and plenty of formerly despised geeks who have servants helping them pick out which diamond cummerbund they're going to wear today.
"I'm so glad I patented my design for large bags with money signs on them."
But the sad truth is that just as often, the lack of confidence and/or social skills that screw you over in high school will screw you over in life as well. If you're popular and outgoing in high school, you're going to be popular and outgoing during job interviews. If you can't talk to someone you're attracted to without peeing yourself, people aren't going to suddenly stop caring about the pee stains once you graduate. If you're psychologically scarred from having your head shoved in a toilet in eighth grade, you might channel that anger into a successful career to prove yourself. But you might also descend into crippling alcoholism, while the jerk who bullied you becomes a millionaire from running a flourishing plumbing company.
It becomes impossible to watch those types of movies through anything other than your experienced adult eyes, and, suddenly, all of those movies you cherished as a doe-eyed teen become massive mounds of vapid horseshit -- every bit as unrealistic as Transformers or pizza-delivery-based porn.
#3. Self-Journeying Protagonists Are Dicks
Movies are good at featuring protagonists who throw aside their normal lives to find adventure ... and themselves. The 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind is probably the most extreme example of this plot: in this movie, a young suburban father ends up leaving behind his earthly family to go travel the universe with aliens, after which no one at all is impressed with the neighbor's really enlightening backpacking trip to India.
How It Changes
Director Steven Spielberg now regrets Close Encounters' ending, calling the decision to have the protagonist leave his family a "privilege of youth." Lead actor Richard Dreyfuss doesn't have a better opinion:
Both of these guys got older, had kids of their own, and realized that abandoning your family was in fact kind of dumb -- even if Adventure Aliens were involved. But, I don't think you necessarily need actual children in your life to make this jump: all it takes is a healthy dose of adult responsibilities, and the "happy endings" of movies like Close Encounters fall apart like a stack of mashed potatoes. You start finding yourself around things that actually need you, whether it's a spouse, a young child, an adorable puppy, a workplace, or just a stray cat in the neighborhood that no one else likes because it pees everywhere. Soon, you'll be yelling at your television set that the tortured, unfulfilled wanderer on the screen just needs to shut up and take a nice yoga class or something.
I first noticed I'd aged out of the "follow your bliss" team when I tried to watch Into the Wild last year. I know that the movie is based on a real person, Chris McCandless, and I can't comment on his personality or motivations. But Movie Chris? He comes across as an oblivious ass who has everything laid out on a plate and then throws it all away so he can experience living in an abandoned school bus.
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Hobo Jerry lives in a school bus too, and he didn't even have to leave town.
That's not how the target audience sees him, though. As we've said here before, plenty of people think Chris is a freaking hero and even try to emulate him. Give those kids a few years though, and they'll watch the deep, "touching" scene where Chris burns all his money and think, "That could have paid somebody's overdue electricity bill, you freakin' jerk."