Director: Paul Mazursky
Writer: Paul Mazursky and Josh Greenfeld
Cinematographer: Michael C. Butler
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
Like most road trip movies, it’s about the diversity of characters you meet along the way, as we witness Harry as the grandfather everyone would love to have. He doesn’t pass judgment, offering only his opinion on matters and respecting the choices each person makes. The story is feel good and yet there’s a sadness deep down, with Harry knowing that the only thing that will make him happy is himself, for not even Tonto will last forever. I kept thinking of what it must have felt like for Steinbeck to take his last adventure. There would be other vacations, I’m sure, for both Steinbeck and the fictional Harry, but both men were looking for one last American journey in order to discover where it was going. Given the country at the time - at the peak of Vietnam and after the onslaught of assassinations of Bobby Kennedy, MLK, Fred Hampton, and Malcolm X, it seems as though Harry is very much serving as the end of a generation that was pure, confident, and inspiring. We see that beyond his peers there are very few people doing all that well - everyone is searching, or trying to get by, and not many of them are doing so well. Harry offers the only thing he can - respect and tolerance.
I think about what it must be like as the twilight of life enters the picture. With my parents entering into their mid-60s, you realize that they too must be aware that, compared to what they’ve experienced, there are only weeks left in the year of life. What becomes of each vacation, each event, or each memorable moment, knowing that the amount of new experiences is impossible to outweigh the old? Harry is not saddened by his remaining years. With a beautiful image, we see as he enjoys each moment he has left at the beach, knowing that the amount of sunsets and people he’ll meet is dwindling.
I’ve reached a point in my own life where, given the relative rarity of great times and good company - as your late 20s/early 30s often introduces (beyond family, of course; which I don’t have out here in LA) - that I’m far more aware when a great memory is occurring. Recently when I was on a pontoon boat with my three best friends, with laughs abundant, and the time flying by. Or when I went on a trip with my girlfriend and another couple up to Big Bear, expecting a decent time, and having an amazing weekend. In both situations it was strange to be aware of the fact that I would look back fondly on these moments, hoping for their recreation and never achieving it exactly, so much as experiencing something new. To understand that you’re going to look back on the exact moment you’re experiencing as a moment that will always make you smile forces you to appreciate in ways I never have before. I think of the amount of great memories I have, and how much I enjoy reflecting upon them. It prevents me from taking them for granted, appreciating each laugh, each bite of good food, each sip of good wine, each engaging conversation. And still they pass in a flash. I get home and it’s over, and I’m blown away by the fact that it felt like I had just left for the trip.
There’s no way to slow time down, and as the old toilet paper joke goes - it keeps going faster and faster. But it makes me strive to achieve more of them; to say yes to situations even if I’m not completely up for it, knowing that I can say “no” and remember nothing at all, with the day blending into any other. Harry and Tonto might be an analysis of the country and where it’s going, or it’s simply capturing the idea of memory - the songs, the tastes, the politics, the relationships. I think of how rich songs and smells were when I was young, which when I hear or experience them again, I get washed by nostalgia. It’s something that only youth can bring. There are others, but life then moves on - you get concerned with more divisive issues, but in many ways that too brings you closer to others. Beyond the disagreements and feuds is the experiences you can share with them. This film is a celebration of that fact. It makes you look forward to the next great adventure, hoping it arrives as quickly as possible.
BELOW: Slim pickings on the YouTube front, but Bill Conti's score more than makes up for it; capturing the melancholy of reflection and nostalgia
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Thoughts on films, old and new
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