All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
SPOILER ALERT: This article references the end of Men in Black 3 (2012).
Both of my boys are becoming increasingly sensitive to the emotional cues and triggers in movies. About two weeks ago, my younger son was terrorized by Jumanji after being unnerved by the constant and sinister drumming, then horrified upon witnessing young Alan Parrish getting sucked into and trapped by the sentient board game. We had to stop the movie for a good five or ten minutes to console him after he crept up into the chair with my wife and hid beneath her arm. I worried he’d never play a board game again.
But the event that really got to me was last week, when we finished our three-night Men in Black marathon. For the most part, the boys had a great time with the alien hijinks and weren’t put off too much by some of the scarier or more grotesque aspects. I’m also excited that they’re both relatively able to comprehend linear time-travel stories these days… There’s a Back to the Future marathon—well, in our future.
However, my older son was utterly crushed at the end of Men in Black 3 by the death of Agent J’s father. It struck a deep chord with him, watching the young boy James—very near the same age as my son—sadly inquiring after his dad’s whereabouts, the whole scene made more tragic by the young Agent K’s decision to neuralyze the boy and wipe his memory of his father’s demise. It was heavy enough that the boy had either witnessed or was at least intuitively aware of the fact that his father was gone. I think my son was even more disturbed at the thought of that boy having no memory at all of the event. I don’t blame him. It’s scary, like gazing into the infinite void of space.
At first we didn’t know he’d been bothered. He didn’t say anything, and we watched right through to the end of the film. Then the end titles started up, and he slowly shuffled to me in that same foreboding way his brother had to my wife during Jumanji. So where I would normally have said, “Did you like the movie?” was instead, “What’s wrong, buddy?” And that is when he broke into tears and fell into me. Somewhere in his garbled speech, I was able to decode just what had broken his heart. So we sat together for about fifteen minutes, and all I could really do was assure him that it was okay to feel sad, and that it comes from our love, and that we should be reminded to cherish every moment.
I can relate to his pain in a very direct way. I was, in fact, the exact same age when the very same fear befell me. It was 1986, and Halley’s Comet was about to make its round again. I was in second grade (as my son is now), and my dad was explaining to me what this comet thing was, and how this was going to be his only chance in life to see it. He told me that it’d be another 75 years or so by the time it came back, and he stated rather plainly that he wouldn’t be around anymore by then. Somehow this struck me hard. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know about or understand death, but I think it was right then that the idea ceased to be abstract. It was the moment I realized my father’s mortality, and I knew—not just “understood,” but knew—that there was a future where he wouldn’t be here anymore. And that is when I broke into tears and fell into him. Almost 30 years to the day later, I think my son came to know the same thing about me.
I don’t want my kids to be hurt by death—of course. But they will be. And so I want them to be exposed to it. I need them to be, so they won’t be afraid. I’m very grateful that they’ve not been subject to some terrible calamity, and that their exposure, so far, has been in small, controlled doses, like vaccinations. On a lighter note, I’m kinda thrilled that they’re responding so emotionally to movies, whether to the tragedies or the triumphs. Great movies are great stories, and great stories are like the stars: we gaze deeply into them looking for—and sometimes gaining—deep insight about ourselves. I want my boys to be stargazers. I want them to be thinkers, and to be totally unafraid of the infinite void of space and of all phenomena and strange manner of being therein. Kind of like the Men in Black.
Thanks for reading. I’d be interested in any comments you have. Inspiration and insight accidentally manifest in some of the most unexpected places sometimes. I’d love to read about any “deep” or profound experiences you’ve had from an otherwise “silly” movie or show. Please comment below.