I’m pretty sure I’ve exhausted all of my tear ducts. Yesterday I went and saw A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and it was truly one of the most moving films I have seen. Most movies nowadays have a lot of stimuli and frenetic action, and much of this action can desensitize us. So that’s why watching Tom Hanks develop a meaningful bond with a cynical reporter gave me the kind of warm-hearted vibes (and caused the same river of tears to form in my eyes) I felt when I watched the movie Big Fish.
If you haven’t seen Big Fish, it is about a man named Will who seems to have the perfect life: he works a full time job, he has a beautiful wife who is pregnant with their first child. But he has to deal with strained relations with his dad, who likes to recount tales of his life as a boy and teenager, stories that the son thinks are just a bunch of embarrassing lies. When his dad is dying, Will goes home to take care of him and his dad recounts his entire life to him and Will’s wife. Will at first doesn’t want to listen to his dad tell the stories to him since he’s told them many times already, and he worries that his own child will grow up to hear these stories himself and assume they are all fictional events. But as his dad gets closer to death, he starts to appreciate his dad and the life he led. Albert Finney, who plays Will’s dad Edward Bloom, died in February of this year, and whenever I think about him, I think about his profoundly touching role in Big Fish. While I won’t spoil the end, one of the scenes towards the end conveys how deeply Edward Bloom touched the countless strangers and loved ones during his lifetime.
I felt this when I watched A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. I can safely assume that my friends and I were not the only ones reaching for tissues during the film. Lloyd Vogler is a magazine writer in the 1990s whose boss gives him a special assignment: to interview Fred Rodgers. For those unfamiliar with Fred Rogers, he starred on a show called Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood that appealed to kids and adults alike because of his willingness to encourage kids to get in touch with their emotions. One of the emotions he talks about is anger and he uses an adorable animal puppet named Daniel, who talks to a lady about how angry he is, and she encourages him to use his anger constructively rather than take his anger out on others. When Lloyd asks Fred about how he manages anger and stress in his personal life, Fred tells him that we all get angry, but there are ways to manage that anger rather than take it out on other people, such as banging the keys of a piano in frustration or taking time to take care of yourself. As adults, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own problems that we forget that our inner child calls to us each day for us to play with him/her/they even just for five minutes, and instead of pretending that inner kid doesn’t exist, we should embrace our silliness sometimes and not take ourselves too seriously. Yes, life and goals are important, and also it’s fine to make time for art, walks outside, music, prayer, reading, playing with puppets or even, as Mr. Rogers illustrated during his life, encouraging someone else through a tough time. When Lloyd and Fred are on a subway, some kids recognize Fred and start singing “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and then pretty soon, Fred, the kids and everyone else on the subway sings the song together. This is one of many scenes that brought me to tears because it made me think about how Mr. Rogers touched each person’s life and made them feel like they had a reason to keep living.
He even addresses the matter of death in one scene, and the way he addresses it reminds me so much of what educator and philosopher Daisaku Ikeda says about life and death. Even though Mr. Ikeda and Mr. Rogers come from different faiths (Mr. Ikeda is Buddhist and Mr. Rogers is Christian), they share a healthy perspective on death that encourages us to live our lives without regret and treasure each moment we share with the person in front of us, rather than fear death. As many know, Mr. Rogers died in 2003, but more than a decade later his legacy remains unforgotten. Like Mr. Ikeda, Mr. Rogers, by living his life in service to others, has given me a deeper meaning on the importance of encouraging others and how doing so makes not just the other person feel better but also helps us feel better, too.
He also reminded me of Mr. Ikeda because he saw the wisdom, courage and compassion in each person he encountered. Daisaku Ikeda, when meeting with even the steeliest world leaders, has used dialogue as a means of forming a human-to-human connection with the person in front of him. Even when meeting with world leaders who didn’t agree with his views, he respected them as human beings and continued to engage in discussion with them rather than close himself off. In the past he met with people such as Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks, the British academic Arnold Toynbee and Soviet Premier Aleksey Kosygin, and discussed topics such as the importance of art and culture in fostering a more peaceful society, as well as the role of religion in today’s world. His meetings are always out of respect for the other person’s humanity. In the film Mr. Rogers sees Lloyd as a human being, not just as some journalist interviewing him. On the contrary, Lloyd at first saw Mr. Rogers as being just the interviewee who was going to help Lloyd do his job, and when Mr. Rogers doesn’t want to treat the interview as a one-sided matter, Lloyd got frustrated at first. But then there is a scene where they are sitting in a restaurant and Mr. Rogers tells Lloyd to close his eyes and think about someone in his life who helped him in some way. The entire restaurant seems to go quiet as everyone closes their eyes and reflects on someone in their life who helped them. Lloyd starts crying after thinking about his mother before she passed away because she loved him for who he was.
This movie made me appreciate the people in my life who have helped me deal with my emotions and supported me through my ups, downs and in-betweens. Tom Hanks embodied Mr. Rogers’ warm and sincere personality so well, and the film score is absolutely beautiful, rich with cello and piano (it makes me want to practice my cello harder so I can get an opportunity to play on a film score). The music gave the film its sweet touch. I would love to see this film again, although I would still probably get choked up again if I were to see it again. Like a lot of people I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on TV and so watching the film made me nostalgic for those episodes of the show.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. 2019. Rated PG for some strong, thematic material, a brief fight and some mild language.