Monday, January 6, 2014

Fairy Tales and Finding Your Place in the World

Is The Weatherman a contemporary fairy tale? I'm going with yes. I've written about how fairy tales are tales of transformation that make use of symbols and archetypes. They're also stories about finding your place in the world. Most of the times, union with the perfect partner initiates the transition to becoming the ruler of your kingdom. However, that's not the case in The Weatherman, but I still think it can be considered a fairy tale.

The movie's main character, David Spritiz, is a middle-aged husband and father of two.

Nicolas Cage plays David. The movie is his fairy tale, because he's the overgrown kid/immature adult, and the story is about his transformation/growing up/finding his kingdom. His father, Robert Spritzel, is played by Michael Caine.

David is disconnected from his life: he phones it in. As the weatherman at a local TV station, David makes tons of money and doesn't work very hard for it. He's unfaithful to his wife and he's not an especially good father to his children. Whenever anyone recognizes him from his TV gig, he's not very gracious. He's kind of an asshole.

An asshole who really wants to move up in the world, i.e. get that weatherman gig on Hello America,  a national TV show in New York City, because then, everything will be good. His father will respect him, his wife will love him, and his children will be blessed with perfection.

In the real world, his wife wants a divorce, his daughter is overweight—David's father is the only one who will acknowledge she's unhappy, and his fresh-out-of-rehab son is getting seduced by a pedophile. Then Robert is diagnosed with lymphoma. With a National Book Award, a Pulitzer, and President Carter calling him "a national treasure," he's a hard act to follow.  The other bit, people throw things at David. Drive-bys. A Frosty, a Big Gulp, a fried apple pie, a soft taco, some falafel… the list goes on. It really pisses David off. It troubles his father—played with the gravitas that Michael Caine brings to the role—as well.

David is out of touch with reality. He doesn't really get how bad things have become, like he's under some lackluster spell. He tries to be playful with his wife, throws a snowball at her, and breaks her glasses. He takes his daughter to a winter picnic, and she tears her ACL in a potato-sack race. When his wife gets upset and her boyfriend intervenes, David has a public f&*k meltdown in the front yard. When he goes to a relationship workshop with his wife, he cheats on the trust exercise. It's pretty bad.

A year ago, he took his daughter to archery lessons, but she lost interest after the first lesson. He bought her a pack of them. As David's life falls apart, he returns to the archery club to take the unused lessons. After a few lessons, he brings his daughter back. The difference: This time he's the teacher. Although archery still doesn't interest her, he makes a greater attempt to find out what does. Things get tense when he learns that she wants to go bow hunting and kill animals. He doesn't want to kill animals. He invites her to go with him to his interview for the Hello America show in New York.

David's father joins them on the trip. He needs to see a specialist. The news isn't good. He has months to live. Confronted with his father's imminent death, David unleashes his frustration on his wife's boyfriend. Again. When it's over, David muses as he drives his father home.

"Here's something that, if you want your father to think you're not a silly f&*k, don't slap a guy across the face with a glove. Because if you do that, that's what he will think, unless your a nobleman or something in the nineteenth century, which I'm not."

The turning point comes when he's offered the Hello America job. He goes to his father's living funeral and tells his wife about the job offer, hoping she'll want to reconcile. She tells hims she's marrying her boyfriend. David goes outside to shoot his bow and arrow. When the boyfriend comes out for a smoke, David considers shooting him. When David returns inside to deliver his speech, he delivers his first line: "When I think of my dad, I think of  Bob Seger's Like a Rock," and the power goes out. He never gets to finish the speech.

One of the most poignant moments in the film follows. David  and Robert are sitting in the car. Robert plays Like a Rock on the car stereo, and says, "I don't really get it."

David says, it's this, "And I held firmly to what I felt was right, like a rock." He and his father finally connect. Robert passes on his last nugget of wisdom before he passes:

"In this shit life, we must chuck some things."

Before the movie ends, David gets that job with Hello America. It doesn't save his marriage, but he's finally able to let it go and accept his himself as the person he's truly become, The Weatherman.

His Happily Ever After? He walks around New York City with a bow and bag of arrows slung over his shoulder, and no one throws fast food at him ever again. He's inner transformation has radiated to the external world.

The symbols in the story?

I'd go with: The bow and arrow symbolizing the straight and true path/character; the fast food, (this one's directly addressed in the movie) society's contempt; and that job at Hello America is David inheriting his kingdom— finding his place in the world.

It's a beautiful, low-key, human story. I'm always puzzled by how much I love it, but I do love Nicolas Cage, and as I've been trying to say, for me, it's a fairy tale... and you know, I love fairy tales.