Monday, December 28, 2015
On My Mind: Youth in Remission
Lately, I've been feeling my age a bit. Having teenage children will do that to a fella. If you're not old enough to have that experience just file that previous sentence in whatever part of your brain houses profound quotes. One day after you get into your forties, even if you don't have kids of your own, you'll remember it. You might not be able to recite it verbatim, but the sentiment will be unmistakable and overwhelming. The trigger for this will be something simple. You'll have a seemingly benign conversation with one or more teens about music, technology, or sports. There might not even be any teens present. You may just watch a movie trailer. It will be for a reboot of some beloved franchise from your youth. You'll feel the powerful rush of nostalgia mixed with anticipation. That feeling will double in strength when the iconic star of the original film appears, signaling the reprisal of the role that made this person your hero.
Your joy will be short-lived. It will exit your soul as you note to yourself how old this person has become. The odd thing is that you were already aware of their age. You have watched them mature through the decades. However, they were just actors slowly succumbing to Father Time, as we all must. Now that they've stepped back into the persona of your hero, their appearance jars. When you thought of that character you always thought of a defiantly youthful warrior saving us all from certain doom and/or lifting us from the doldrums of cynicism. Now here they are, camera closing in on them during their big reveal, grayed, weathered, features elongated by gravity. You swear you can hear their bones creak over the swelling score. Instincts will tell you they have not returned to rescue us. They are here to pass the honor and responsibility on to someone else.
For me, this has been happening all too frequently as of late. In the midst of trying to avoid as much as possible about upcoming films, I always still allow myself one trailer. First, a few months ago, was the one for Creed. It is a film about a young man named Adonis, son of fictional boxing legend Apollo Creed. Adonis knows he needs a mentor. Naturally, he turns to Rocky Balboa. Rocky is played, once again, by Sylvester Stallone. I've seen Sly in dozens of movies including all of his turns as the aging Rocky. The difference is this time I know he won't be pulling on the gloves. His face tells me so before he speaks a word. His eyes no longer possess the gleam of a man destined to overcome incredible odds, but have the weariness of a soldier battered by many wars. The weight of a lifetime of fighting presses against him, slows his gait.
Just when I thought I was over the shock of Rocky near seventy I watch a trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Battling with and against the ever-present army of Storm Troopers are people new to the war between light and dark. Their unfamiliar hands firing blasters and wielding light sabers, the fate of the galaxy changing with each blow struck. Suddenly, a quiet moment disrupts the chaos. Han Solo appears. However, he's hardly the youthful skeptic who somehow found himself face-to-face with his own mortality in the bowels of the Death Star. He's now an old believer, fully indoctrinated in the religion at which he once scoffed. With one sentence he simultaneously validates and incapacitates my childhood. "It's real, it's all real," he says. I nod in agreement because I know this to be true. I rode in the cockpits of X-Wing Starfighters with rebel pilots as they tried to destroy the most dangerous weapon ever created. With my own eyes I saw a young man close his in prayer before making an impossible shot, the fatal blow to that monstrosity aimed at theater-goers far and wide. I remember the exhilaration of seeing it explode as I sat safely shielded by a large bucket of popcorn.
Try as I might to recreate the moment, it will never be quite the same as it was so many years ago. I will never again be the wide-eyed child, legs jellied with anticipation, ready for an adventure, but not fully aware of the power of the Dark Side. I've seen too much. Myself, Han, Rocky, we're jaded vets, now. Adonis, Rey, Harry, Katniss, and you, dear reader, may you all be so lucky as to become the same.