by Daniel Rosler
With the recent success of Netflix’s original series, Stranger Things, audiences are reminded of some of film’s most cherished friendships - particularly, due to Stranger Things’ nostalgic nods to the ‘80’s, the lovable gangs in such classics as The Goonies and Stand by Me. The aforementioned have found that their greatest success stems from their motley-crew protagonists, who, when faced against unspeakable odds, come together in moments of hilarity and sincerity, melting hearts and influencing screenwriters for years to come. However, like film, friendships come in all shapes and sizes, which I present here in a list of films I’ve watched or re-watched recently. What I find noteworthy is the amount of friendships that work because they are balancing opposite personalities, uniting social and economic classes, or reconciling differences, reminding us that we are shaped by our opposites (for better or worse).
Cinema was, perhaps, at its purest (albeit most primitive) form during the silent era; for, when art is born, it is because it stands in contrast to previously established mediums of expression. In other words, films were not only special because they weren’t books, music, painting, ceramics, or photography - though those elements would be incorporated in later years - but were also legitimized by the intrinsic nature of cinema: storytelling through moving images - primitive but innovative. In Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, we witness the power of both silent cinema, in this case silent comedy, and its ability to translate very powerful and serious social commentary into laughter.
The audience watches as Chaplin’s lovable Tramp trudges through poverty-stricken streets, eventually stumbling across an abandoned child. Although initially apprehensive, he takes on the responsibility of saving the child. The film flashes forward five years, and we see the Tramp and the child’s bond has grown. But the true nature of their relationship is not explicitly revealed. In fact, I suspect most - myself included - believe we are bearing witness to a budding father-son relationship: an assumption made complicated as we watch the real mother regret her decision to leave behind the child; for, not only do we suspect she will find the child, but, Chaplin also exposes the tensely polarized social classes, increasing our anxiety over the plot’s progression as we wonder what will happen to the kid. The child’s mother is an affluent, successful star by the time she finds the child, who, under the care of the Tramp, was raised in poverty. In fact, the child and the Tramp’s day-job is for the kid to break windows with rocks while the Tramp, conveniently, walks by shortly after with window panes on his back, offering to repair the windows for money.
And this severe difference in lifestyle is exemplified in many scenes. Moreover, Chaplin’s comedy shines a light on the greed that was tearing families apart. In a newspaper article discovered accidentally by a flophouse manager, it reads “lost child” - but note that it does not say abducted or stolen child. Thus, the man, who, just previously wouldn’t let the Tramp and child sleep in the same cot unless they paid for two, was prompted merely by greed in his decision to capitalize on the article’s reward - not altruism.
In a scene in which the child falls ill, a visiting doctor asks the Tramp, “Are you the father of this child?” The whole audience is wondering the same thing: has the Tramp accepted a paternal role? He replies, “Well - practically.” The doctor breaks the fourth wall, mouthing in shock and confusion, “Practically?” Whether or not the relationship is ever defined or acknowledged by the Tramp doesn’t matter. The friendship is heart-warming and genuine, and, in the final scenes, we have hopes that the rich and poor find unity in the younger generations.
Wes Anderson’s second film centers around a lovable and awkward cast of characters, who are all engaged in a web of bizarre circumstances spun by the extracurricular-jack-of-all-trades and most academically miserable student at Rushmore Academy, Max Fischer. Perhaps the most charming relationship is the friendship between Max and his younger protégé, Dirk. After all, they are able to reconcile their differences after Max falsely-claims that Dirk’s mother gave him a hand job - a repeated joke throughout the film, and one that exemplifies the naïve idealism of love and misunderstanding of sex that plagues Max, Dirk, and most early teenagers. Moreover, we see how much Dirk really cares about Max, accepting his eccentricities and exaggerations - and, equally, how much Max grows to appreciate Dirk’s dedication to their friendship.
However, there is something just as touching about Bill Murray’s character, Howard Blume, a miserable millionaire who befriends Max but accidentally falls in love with Max’s love interest, the recently-widowed teacher, Rosemary. This relationship also needs reconciling, and it happens in two instances: when Max finally matures enough to stop telling tall-tales about all aspects of his life, including doctoring up his blue-collar father, a barber, and when he learns the painful truth that, sometimes, “when you love something, set it free.” In doing so, Max’s newfound maturity allows him to see the perfect girl before his eyes.
This film franchise utilized Joseph Campbell’s concept of the “Hero’s Journey” to its max potential. Despite being a major success in storytelling, it did help popularize some of the major tropes littering fiction today. Audiences are becoming bored with plots of good vs. evil, in which good and evil are clear cut and obvious. Consider Game of Thrones’ major popularity: its characters defy most archetypes, and, despite thriving within the context of a high-fantasy, fictional world, are motivated by real human characteristics - some of which are obvious flaws. But they’re real flaws. The characters are far from black and white.
However, this particular cast of characters defies genre and clichés, despite being molded by them. We all know Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, Yoda and Obi-Wan, the heroic Princess Leia and reluctant good-guy, Han Solo. But we remember these characters mostly because of their interactions with each other. It’s that rag-tag-group-of-outsiders-uniting-against-an-evil-empire trope that excites the audiences, making them believe their own normalcy could be used for the greater good. Consider the intense bond between Han and Chewie, or the touching, almost married-couple like bickering back and forth between C-3PO and R2-D2, characters inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s classic, The Hidden Fortress; only the former can ever understand the latter literally, but they offer each other completion—like the perfect balancing of the force.
One of the most successful low-budget films of all time is remembered for its quick-witted, raunchy humor, and its tiny cast of lovable everyday-Joes and Janes surviving suburban New Jersey. The film is shot in less than a handful of locations, primarily at a convenient store connected to a video rental store (remember those?). But we are here to highlight the friendships: Dante and Randal are two opposites, yet they are best friends. Dante works hard and is taken advantage of by his boss. Randal is more philosophical, open to new things (see his investigation of certain types of pornography), and totally irresponsible. Once again, we the audience connect with the unity of opposite personalities. We learn from observing both individuals and their vastly different views—and, of course, we love the argument between the two about the Death Star and its construction workers’ sense of morality.
Let’s also consider the infamous duo of Jay and Silent Bob. The pair couldn’t be any less alike: Jay is taller, thinner, never shuts the fuck up, and Silent Bob is as his name suggests, speaking only when giving a line of wisdom. Because of their friendship, they remain in the minds and hearts of film lovers everywhere as some of our favorite stoners in cinema history.
I’ll never forget being introduced to this cinematic masterpiece in a film class taught by Dr. Philip Mosley several years ago. Talk to Her (Hable con ella) is a Spanish film directed by Pedro Almodovar in which several characters’ chance interactions develop through emotional flashbacks, giving insight into the main players’ relationships with two women who are both in comas. Marco, a journalist who falls for a bull fighter, and Benigno, a male nurse, have a budding friendship that is touching, but, in a sense, is also pitiful and dangerously cut off from (mental) reality. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the film, “For much of the movie, what they have in common is that they wait by the bedsides of women who have suffered brain damage and are never expected to recover.”
Yet there’s beauty in the tragedy. Look how dedicated the both of them are to their loved ones. But the tragedy is not over: the girl under Benigno’s care, Alicia, is a former ballerina whom Benigno used to watch from the window of his mother’s apartment. Right away, in flashback scenes, we learn Benino and his mother’s relationship is rather strange; Benigno certainly suffers from some psychological damage as a result. It appears that Beningno has been so severed from reality, and for so long, that he has never properly matured, nor learned the right way to love.
Almodovar includes an original—and impressive—silent film within Talk to Her that, without wanting to spoil the major plot, is riddled with suggestive themes, and ones that help explain a nearing plot development—as well as stitching together surreal images to best be interpreted à la Freud (for better or worse).