“The Big Chill”

Big Chill PosterI had been thinking a lot about this movie for the past year and a half for a whole host of reasons. For starters, my life turned a page as I celebrated the 20-year reunion with some of my former High School class mates. I had lengthy conversations with some of those people about what was and what had became of us. Then personal tragedy stuck my life and everything that I wanted to do during the last months of the Summer of 2008 was put on hold, calling into question the concept of life taken for granted..

Then this past autumn I went to the calling hours of one of my former class mates who died unrepentantly. After talking to some of the people whom I had just seen at the reunion and others I hadn't seen in 20 years I resolved some issues and threw away some emotional baggage. Some of those issues was with someone who was one of the bright spots during one of the darkest periods of my adolescence, someone who didn't know about the special places she had in my heart. All this time I wondered openly to those people around me and to you via my movie reviews and rants about the meaning of life.

All the while I've been thinking about what it means to be 40 - which I'll be turning in this July. I've been thinking about my life and the place in this world. I've been so focused on trying to figure out what happened to my youthful enthusiasm while coping with the prolonged feeling that large chunks of my life were stolen and I was denied some of the opportunities others in my age had taken for granted, easily forgetting that I've done things most of my peers couldn't have dreamed of. When do we accept the choices and the mistakes we made, and start to embrace them as the unique threads woven into our life's tapestries? Do you ever learn to forgive yourself for not living the life you dreamed of when you were younger? 

All of this sounds like my life had become someone else's knock-off version of "The Big Chill," that's exactly what I thought and why I felt the urge to reexamine this film. Suddenly a motion picture I despised in my adolescence becomes poignant as I approach middle age...  

Kevin Costner - The man who would later move on to play Eliot Ness in one of the best 30's-Prohibition period films of the late 1980's - stars as the faceless corpus. Alex, the man who all this fuss is about, committed suicide for unexplained and mysterious reasons and his funeral acts as the catalyst that brings his college friends together . Alex was the glue to this group of friends who met in college that we meet shortly...

Sarah and Harold Cooper (Glenn Close and Kevin Kline) play host to their college friends after dealing with Sarah's tryst with Alex who had been living with them and his girlfriend, Chloe - played by Meg Tilly.

Nick, played by William Hurt - drives around the country in his beat up old Porsche while popping pills while coping with his impotence due to a war injury he suffered in Viet Nam, while Tom Beranger's "Sam Weber" portrays a Magnium PI Knock-off on network television as he copes with both success and the inability to trust anyone because of his celebrity status.

Jeff Goldblum, former journalism student and reporter for the college newspaper now writes fluff pieces for People magazine - articles that are just long enough for people to read while in the bathroom. "Michael Gold" spends some time trying to figure out how to take his time off from his reporting and work this weekend into an article for later... when he's not trying to put the moves on Alex's Girl Friend.

Meg Jones, played by Mary Kay Place is struggling with the guilt of having an argument with Alex before he died about how he was wasting his life while simultaneously tries to stifle the ticking of her biological clock by choosing one of her college-era male friends to father a child for her.

JoBeth Williams and Don Galloway show up as Karen and Richard Bowens. Karen still pines for Sam and remembers when he was a serious actor who wanted to do work that had substance, while Richard is the outsider just there for one day to be with his wife. He leaves after the first night so that his wife can reconnect with her old college chums. A really BAD idea...

As the weekend progresses, the group rekindle their old feelings for each other along with some grudges. Over drinks, joints and food they explore their lost idealism that they had in college and the brief years afterwards, how they compromised themselves and are now apart of the establishment they protested against while in college. Basically, it's an hour and a half of people talk to each other and take out their frustrations out on each other about their missed opportunities and unaccomplished lofty goals from years past.

The motion picture seems to end abruptly, with the only thing they really resolve is how they feel for each other and not loose touch with one another.

How much love, sex, fun and friendship can a person take? The story of eight old friends searching for something they lost, and finding that all they needed was each other.

The tag lines used in the posters and DVD case seem less contrite and cliché after seeing the actual motion picture, but the sense of self-absorption remains. The fact that some of these characters have children and they're warehoused somewhere is an example.

I make no apologies or try to hide the fact that when I first saw this movie about my parents' generation, I hated it. I loved to loath it and scoff at it. Everything that's wrong about the baby-boomers, Children of The Greatest Generation and the "Age Of Aquarius" is jammed packed into an hour and a half of celluloid. >

As I wrote in the thread on The Electric Speakeasy: I came upon an issue of Newsweek that I was going to write about - about how every 5 years we go though another period of remoistening about 1968. 20 years ago, 1989 - there was a huge retrospective about 1968. Where's our retrospective on 1989 now? Why are we getting nostalgic about 1968 again?

I don't want to seem like I'm harping about this too much or that I'm bitterly obsessed with trashing the 60's. But, I'm really sick to death of members the older generation who love to remind people how wonderful the 1960's were and that there never will be another era like that again, so kids; don't even try. I'm sick to death of the self-righteous, sanctimonious attitudes many former protesters and activists have, as if all the "wonderful" things they stood for and "horrible" things they were against absolves them of any wrong doing in the past, future and present.

Kasdan Big ChillOne of the things I witnessed while growing up during the 1970's and 1980's were the horrible ways former hippies treated their kids, as if they were physical manifestations of their hang-over from the heavy drinking and drugs they did during the 1960's or an unwanted side-effect/bi-product from the reckless free-love. Many parents treated their kids with contempt and regret: "If it wasn't for you, I would still be saving the world."

The worst of all is the impression that I have that many of the people who glorify the 1960's chose to forget that it was the 1930's and 1940's Generation that really saved the world - as if the Hippie Generation is trying to destroy, tarnish or diminish their parents achievements.

I was thinking back to when I was a teen and hearing about what a "touchstone" this movie was and how "Big Chill Weekends" where the biggest thing, parents of my friends and acquaintances spent three or four days with people they went to high school or college and came back weepy, introspective and distant. What did you expect from your parents after re-enacting parts of the movie with their own variations caused by their own history and baggage? Some of my friends said that their parents were even more abusive or self-absorbed when they came back from their retreats.

 One "Big Chill" weekend was discussed by a local morning radio host who talked about it endlessly the week before it happened, and the week afterwards. I've never heard the word "cathartic" so many times before in my life, or since.

Those weekends were a mixed blessing since we were able to hang out and make our own memories with their parents gone. Our parent's "Big Chill" was our big opportunity to raid their liquor cabinets and secret hiding places. And one of my best or worst memories from the night I was baby-sitting some neighbors kids and "partying" with them after they got back, watching them do some lines of cocaine and lighting up a joint while I helped my self to a bottle of whiskey or scotch. "It's The Big Chill, man... it's The Big Chill." It was a profound...

I tried to rationalize or resolve that the same guy who wrote that 'drivel' was the same guy who wrote the screenplay to "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Raiders Of The Lost Ark." Two decades later and now I'm finding my self asking some of the same questions posed by these characters. I hate to admit this, but the premises of this motion picture, it's soundtrack and what it meant to people in my parents age group seems to echo less of who they are now and more of what my generation has become.

The older I get, the more I appreciate this movie's dialog and that the seven original friends and their new mates are stereo-types of people in general in the guise of "young urban professionals" of the 1980's still longing to be the hippies of the 1960's. They're also typical of late-30-somethings soon to become 40-somethings of any generation that looks back at spent youth and wonder how it happened and where did all the time go. How come we didn't accomplish everything we set out to do, or dream of? A peer's death puts the fragility of life into even sharper focus.

These are all characters who remind me of people whom I new then and who I know now, and sadly remind me too much of myself. [Put a fedora on Jeff Goldblum and the guy does a killer impression of the webmaster of The Fedora Chronicles.] Lawrence Kasdan also taps into some F. Scott Fitzgerald, these are all versions of Jay Gatsby trying to reinvent themselves while striving for their own metaphorical Green-Light, trying to recapture or maintain something that gave their chaotic lives meaning when they were younger. Everyone is piloting his or her own boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Big Chill Cast

What I still don't understand about these characters and members of the baby boom generation is how they shoved their children aside while trying to strive for meaning when being a parent is meaning enough. If you really want to change the world and make it a better place, start with your kids and include them in your hopes, dreams and aspirations. Maybe as I write this I'm starting to figure out why and how "Generation X" became so bitter, pragmatic and resentful of our parents and why many of us cling to the idealism of our Grandparents, what's regarded now as The Greatest Generation, emulating our grandparents and the jazz age as rebellion against the anti-establishment Age Of Aquarius that bore us.

As I approach that milestone at 40 years of age, I wonder where is our "Big Chill" experience, when will we have a cinematic experience that explores the issue that we're dealing with and infuse it with the music that identified era we grew up and came of age. Where's the motion picture that will defines us for a future generation? Maybe the fact that there isn't one yet is an artistic expression in itself. 

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