Monday, February 18, 2008

Four Favorite Fathers on Film

I really had no idea. Sure, I had read almost an entire book on fatherhood. Even went to a class or four on this thing called a baby. But from day one (maybe minute one), it occurred to me that I was woefully ill-prepared. Beyond a name I wasn't really sure what I had to give him, since my wife was the one with all the food. I felt guilty at first for not educating myself more, but I've since learned that parenting (unlike bomb defusing) is only done with on-the-job training. What did I expect? I think my expectations were shaped by the visions of fatherhood I had seen in movies, with each one of these fellas helping to mold those expectations, while teaching me a parenting skill or two along the way:

Jor-El (Marlon Brando), Superman: The Movie

I put this one first because it was the movie I thought of after hearing the news of a child in our future. Not really the movie, just these two great lines from Jor-El. It's maybe the best thing you can say about someone. Jor-El appears to be pledging his soul to young Kal-El, but the way he says it (and the use of that mysterious crystal) tells us he is absolutely certain Kal-El will never be alone. The opening scenes on Krypton are my favorite of the movie, and are essential to Richard Donner's Superman rising above lesser action fare to an elite level of comic adaptations. Brando's performance has been criticized (especially for what he was paid for the minimal screentime), but where some may see a character bereft of emotion I see confidence. The man's planet is about to explode, but he's relatively at peace because he will be able to see his son prosper on another world.
Key parenting attributes: Supernatural supervision, Phantom Zone research.

Chingachgook (Russell Means), The Last of the Mohicans

It's one thing to know your pops has your back, it's another to know he wields the most terrifying axe/club in the Western world. Chingachgook and his son Uncas (Eric Schweig) are the last of their tribe, and along with Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) they are also the last of a peaceful kind of frontiersman that is being driven to extinction by the outbreak of war and colonization. Chingachgook is a man of few words, preferring to do most of his speaking with his weapon, which is frequently seen smashing limbs and flying through the air. The old man takes center stage in the film's amazing climax, avenging Uncas' death with devastating efficiency before delivering the film's memorable epilogue (from the director's cut):

The frontier place is for people like my white son and his woman and their children. And one day there will be no more frontier. And men like you will go too, like the Mohicans. And new people will come, work, struggle. Some will make their life. But once, we were here.
Key parenting attributes: Carry the largest stick in the forest, save words for later.

Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani), Bicycle Thieves

I get choked up every time I watch Bicycle Thieves, not at the depressing ending -- but during Antonio and his son Bruno's brief moments of bonding in the midst of their desperate search for the father's stolen bicycle (which equals a job in post-War Italy). The young Bruno doesn't live the life of a small boy, he is forced to be grow up and contribute to the family however possible while not making a fuss. Like his father, Bruno wears the solemn look of a person who does not expect life to be pleasurable, because he has only known struggle. But for a short time one afternoon, Antonio and Bruno become father and son. Perhaps realizing that his bicycle will never be found, and that this small boy walking with him is more important than it, Antonio takes his son out to a restaurant (probably for the first time in his life). Both characters let their guard down at the restaurant and for a few moments forget about the troubles that await them outside its doors. This is always the most heartbreaking part of the movie for me, because Antonio realizes he has deprived his son of a childhood and that he is destined for a life of struggles like his father.
Key parenting attributes: Wine warms the heart, don't let your babies grow up to be bums.

Ben Harper (Peter Graves), The Night of the Hunter

Before he was asking kids about gladiator movies, Peter Graves played every boy's dream vision of the coolest father ever: the tragic would-be Robin Hood dad who entrusts you with his loot before he's hauled away to the gallows. Okay, it's pretty depressing -- but at some point Aiden and I are going to sit down and decide where he'll hide the booty (if and when it comes to that) if I ever am forced to present him with said booty. If I ever have minutes to spare before being hauled away for good, I don't want to waste any time formulating a hidden booty plan like Ben here.
Key parenting attributes: Thievery is your last option, even if the Great Depression is over.


BB said...

I think I'd pick Ferris Beuller's father, the dad from Monster Squad, and Sonny Chiba's in Street Fighter

Adam Ross said...

The Monster Squad dad is a good one, who else would make a late-night run for a stick of dynamite (hardware store still open?)when the fate of the world is on the line?

Fletch said...

Chingachgook's fight scene at the end with Magua is amongst the best ever filmed. Such a badass...