November 23, 2021


Planes, Trains, and Thanksgiving (TITUS TECHERA, NOVEMBER 23, 2021, Acton)

As Tocqueville puts it, some Americans want to be independent, others to be equal. They seem to be the same, but they're not. Hughes understood that all too well, so he made a plot that looks like a divine, or at least a cosmic, judgment on this respectable, middle-aged, middle-class, sensible guy, Steve Martin, who just wants to be left alone, to not have to deal with the vast country teeming with people around him. But that country is America, built on equality. So everything seems to work against him, everything he relied on to get him safely home--his money and credit cards, his plane ticket, his car rental, his very mortality.

As I said, he begins by failing to close a sale but then also realizes he's forgotten his gloves; then he fails to get a cab for the airport and barely makes it, on a bus; he has a miserable time on the plane, starting with being bumped from first class to where the majority of Americans are, but worse, the flight is rerouted a thousand miles west of Chicago, to Wichita, Kansas, because of bad weather. Getting back East proves to be one nightmare after another, until he stares death in the face on an icy freeway in the middle of the night, then sits on his luggage as his car is on fire. The whole world is conspiring against him.

This is all done as comedy, but Hughes assumed we'd all laugh because he knew the majority of Americans are not as well off as Steve Martin's character and, accordingly, they're just more aware than he is that they are vulnerable to circumstances, that all sorts of things could go wrong and ruin their plans, and therefore some humility is in order, because we all need hope. People laugh at him because they realize he thinks he's better than them and the story continuously rubs his nose in it.

Still, Steve Martin is the protagonist of the story. For all his failures, he does get home for Thanksgiving. He eventually learns that throwing his money around is not enough, that he should share in some way what he most loves in his lifeĀ­--his family. At that point, the movie becomes quite Christian and reveals that the whole ordeal only made Martin miserable and terrified so as to teach him a moral lesson, to remind him how precious that love is and how much human beings always need one another. Yes, successful men of business give America its character, people can't be free unless they work for a living. But without charity, there's no America in the first place, and charity is not about rich people paying poor people, it's about admitting we are all human beings. That's what Candy shows, a love of other people based on equality.

Posted by at November 23, 2021 2:32 PM