Film 2: The Accidental Tourist
reviewed on October 18, 2011
Tonight’s 1988 screening was for the Academy Award winning “The Accidental Tourist”. It stars William Hurt, Geena Davis, and Kathleen Turner. I would be an awful person if I failed to mention the amazing ensemble work put in by Ed Begley Jr, David Ogden Stiers, Amy Wright, and Bill Pullman.
Onto the plot….
The story involves a travel guide writer named Macon(Hurt) who is dealing with pain and loss from the murder of his 12 year old son. He is also dealing with increased isolation and stagnation within his marriage with his wife (Turner). We start out seeing him in a hotel, narrating from his travel book about how to pack for a business trip abroad. He is very meticulous and carries himself like a man who died years ago, but who still has to go through the motions of the living. The whole film felt like witnessing a life trapped under crackling fluorescent bulbs, like the scenes in “Joe vs the Volcano” when Tom Hanks is trapped in that awful basement office. Macon says “I don’t really care for movies; they make everything seem so close up”. That quote sums up the claustrophobic nature of this film. Don’t misunderstand me. The tight space feeling of this film is what seems like is intended to be conveyed. If that is the intention, then it succeeds. We watch as Hurt’s life closes in all around him. His wife leaves him. His job, writing travel books for businessmen like himself who hate to travel, sucks the life out of him. Even the times that we are stuck in his basement laundry hell, the walls are closing in. Macon's dog won’t even venture down the stairs to get crushed by the void. I can only compare it to how nervous Star Wars fans get when our heroes are in the Death Star trash compactor. When Macon hurts himself did anyone else think “he is going to die down there”?
However, his life begins to change when he meets a dog trainer/groomer named Muriel (Davis). She turns his depressing world around, or rather, cleans a spot of grime off of the solitary confinement cell in which he is sequestered to give a little sunlight. It is in the scenes with Davis, that you feel like the walls have opened up and you travel the streets of Baltimore ripe with infinite possibilities for Macon. Murial serves him redemption for his troubled soul in the guise of her young, shy son Alexander. A scene that grabbed me as a parent was the scene in the alley where he walks Alexander to school after an encounter with some bullies. I could feel the shame and hurt of my own sons in that moment and the helplessness I feel as a parent when I am powerless to stop the “wolves” at their doors. The conflict in the story comes from the return of his wife and the closed in life of Macon. He is faced with a choice between happiness or comfort...and I won’t spoil the ending. Rent it!
I didn’t know how to feel about this movie at first. In fact, I have been avoiding it for years because the cover and title made it seemed stuffy and dull . In all honesty, I took several breaks during my viewing to do anything but finish the film. I got so frustrated with feeling so closed in that I had to get up, walk around, chat on Facebook. I had to feel connected to the world in a way that Macon could not. However, I needed to keep coming back to the film. I was a little unsettled at Geena Davis’ transition from jilted lover to uber-hyper stalker. It felt like I was missing a scene of explanation that must have been dropped on the editing floor. However, Davis won an Oscar for her role, so what do I know?
My real pleasure came from watching the interaction of Macon’s brothers and sister (played by everyone else named up above). What great lines the three of them have! It is so effortless, the loving way that these actors interact with each other. Bill Pullman enters their life and falls for shy, motherly sister Rose . I was honestly floored to see Pullman because the first time that I saw him on film was when my brother and I convinced our parents to let us go and see Benji the Hunted without them, and then we snuck into Spaceballs. I guess I had always assumed that besides Spaceballs he was a 4 or 5 scene actor that bounced from movie to movie just to be “that guy”..that, and the role of the low self esteem guy in “Sleepless in Seattle” and “While you were Sleeping”…wait a minute, that is even weirder than I thought. I thought he only began to last through the whole movie after “Casper” and “Independence Day”…my apologies to Mr Pullman for my lack of knowledge in light of how great I think you are! However, I must add that you creeped me out in this film. Pullman had this creepy intensity that made me feel awkward for him the whole time, up until he was willing to be poisoned by Rose’s undercooked Turkey, then he became the soft “aw shucks” Bill Pullman that I have always known. When Macon is with his family you can’t help but feel how each of them is an “Accidental Tourist”, each one with their own neatly packed bag of heartbreak that makes them fear the world outside their front door.
What can we learn about 1988 from this film:
I think one of the biggest message to take from this film was how people were willing to lose personal connections and adventure, for the 1980's notion of constant "work". Jobs were your status in the 1980's. The idea of making money, having the right life, the right wife, owning the right house were an important part of the consumer driven economy. It didn't matter if you didn't like your job, it was your identity. In that regard, there were many great films and books written about the same "work until you drop" mentality in very similar 1950's economy such as "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit". The 80's seem to be a showcase of people doing what it took to get ahead. What a great statement on the crippling emotional lonliness of the Yuppies as they surrounded themselves with personal trophies of status. I would liken this to the later, "Up in the Air" with George Clooney for having a similar message. It is a fascinating statement about life in a decade when family values were being preached from the pulpits and filling our television screens. Macon represents the sacrificial, robotic choices that must be made in order to create the 1980's picture of family.
I give “The Accidental Tourist” 10 stars and highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a psychologically driven film tonight. Beware—this movie is a slow burner. Don’t come expecting tidy wrap-ups and Michael Bay explosions. It slowly draws you in, and man oh man when it ends, it drops on you like a ton of existential bricks. The message of the film is timeless, “Your missing piece is out there, stop settling”. It builds slow, but it will grow on you fast.
PS….did I mention this was directed by Hollywood titan Lawrence Kasdan?
PPS…best line in the film
“I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s not just how much you love someone. Maybe what matters is who you are when you’re with them. “
Here is what Roger Ebert had to say about the film in 1988