The Fighting Child
Is there a more interesting case study than John Hughes?
He invented a new genre and incidentally opened a new strain of cinematic techniques.
But writing is like other major enterprises in life. Each hit on the pool ball does three things; it attempts to score, it completely changes the environment and at the same time sets the cue ball up for the next stab at scoring.
Writers beware. Everything you do becomes a legacy that shapes what you can do next. Only a small part of that is what readers expect; the bigger limits are always placed by the writer. Can one ever escape the familiar when you know you can do it well. Its a sort of falling in love and it never leaves you.
Go back and trace the story of his stories. You’ll find each one writing himself into a smaller box.
Some details relate to this movie. What he did was take big themes, let’s call them adult themes, and transpose them to the world of children. Its a common enough technique, this bit about shifting frames of reference, and he wasn’t the first. Dr. Seuss comes to mind with kids and naturally we have the root of science fiction.
But Hughes hit a spot that was so sweet because the target frame of reference he chose was one we all have experienced. In fact, he chose only elements of pre-adulthood that were so simple the viewer didn’t even have to reminisce. You can trace his own path in this. Over time he became an adult assaulting the world of children.
And over time, the child in us started to fight back, because after a certain point we won’t tolerate having our past stolen. We know we are unique. We know each time he uses our past as a generic wrapper it becomes homogenised with millions of other childhoods. So we choose to repel the invader.
That’s what makes these home alone movies so fascinating. He gets into a self-referential loop where the charm isn’t about how successfully the adult invades the adolescent, but how successfully the child repels it.
The problem is that as time goes on, even though these become more interesting virtual biography of the curse of writing, these become less interesting as amusements.
Posted in 2006
Ted’s Evaluation — 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.