Sunday, March 6, 2011

Kris and Adam Discuss AFI’s Top 100: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Kris Jenson, with whom I've had the best discussions of my life, is an old friend of mine from Boston. We had been talking about the American Film Institute's Top 100 when he got a job at Dig Boston, writing about just that. Instead of letting the conversation end just because he's a big, fancy writer now, I'm going to write responses to his articles. I can't keep up with his movie watching, so I'm only responding to the ones I've seen.

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"

Brace yourselves, everyone, I'm going to write something resoundingly positive. Not only do I adore this movie, I think Kris's article is spot on. If you haven't read it, here's the link again. Seriously, it's really good.

The message behind this movie is so important, and it's executed so well, I think it transcends movie criticism. Spending any time discussing the technical merits is to almost totally miss the point. I won't even dignify what I'm saying by giving examples. I'm not going to pretend to know anything about race relations in this country, but there is so much more going on here. Although, I think Sydney Poitier delivers possibly the best explanation as to why it seems white people can't dance.

"It's our dancing, and it's our music. We brought it here. I mean, you can do the Watusi... but we are the Watusi, if you know what I mean."

You see, everyone, I'm not just an uncoordinated Jew, there just isn't enough Klezmer in the clubs.

The scene that probably changed my life, no exaggeration, is the scene where Poitier confronts his father. His father makes the argument that because he sacrificed so much to raise his son, his son owes it to him to respect his wishes and not marry a white girl. I have to admit, there's a lot of power in that argument. All our parents had to sacrifice something for us, and in a very real way, we owe them a debt we can never re-pay. When our parents ask something of us, no matter how big or small, is it not our duty to comply? To defy our parents is to spit in their faces.


Poitier's response shaped my relationship with my parents from that moment forward. "You've got to get off my back." That's the famous line they put in all the montages, but it has so much power. Everything changed in the '60s, and children had to find a way to say to their parents, "We love you, but we can't live like you." Parents do know what's best for their kids, but what's best isn't always what the kids want. Once a kid becomes an adult, he has the right to pay off his debt to his parents whatever way he sees fit. If then a parent wants to feign disappointment and cry foul and accuse his offspring of being ungrateful, tough shit.

I saw this movie right before I went off to college, and it helped me realize my purpose in life. I don't have to be my father, and I don't have to be what my parents want me to be. If I'm happy and satisfied with my own life, that's all I owe my parents. The rest of what I do for my parents is of my own free will. It makes me feel good to do by them and for them, so I do it.

What came from this mentality is a drastic change in the very core of society. I'm not going to say this movie created it, but no movie nails it better. It says a lot about a movie that a deeply personal story about the argument over inter-racial marriage only scratches the surface of what it's about. But if you want to talk about the pacing and the extended monologues, go fuck yourself.

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