The Monday morning blues are well-documented, so it stands to reason that for this 5 Day Movie Challenge, Monday's flick is one that makes the tears start to flow.
Full disclosure: I'm the opposite of stoic. I cry at sad moments, happy moments, inspiring moments, even occasionally at reality TV shows. (Don't judge me!) There are many, many films that make me well up, but for this particular challenge, I wanted to take it to the next level. A film that would break the hardest heart, and leave the more sensitive types (like me) a weeping puddle of raw emotion.
This mid-nineties drama starring Robin Williams is not messing around. It will reach deep down inside your soul, rip out your emotions, and play ping pong with them.
It begins with the premature birth of a baby boy: Jack. Jack is born with a rare condition similar to progeria (yes, this is based on an actual, honest-to-god genetic disorder) which causes him to age at four times the normal rate. By the time he has lived for a year, he has the body of a four year old. At five, he's already gone through puberty.
The film cuts from birth to Jack at the age of ten and with the body of a forty year old man. After ten years of being home schooled for fear that he would be ostracized for his appearance, Jack is miserable and lonely, and convinces his parents to let him go to school.
Have You Ever Felt Like You Don't Belong?
It's not far into the movie before the waterworks start. Jack turns up to school: excited, nervous, naive. The other kids, unsurprisingly, aren't particularly friendly, and Jack has to deal with the disappointment and teasing of a class of ten year olds (not an age renowned for kindness).
Here is where we start to see the genius of the film; while I doubt any of us have been in this precise situation, almost everyone has felt like they don't fit in at one time or another. Jack's awkwardness, sadness, and dismay are palpable. Watching his first foray into the rest of the world will bring up every time you felt excluded or humiliated.
After a while, the other kids start to accept Jack as a peer (helped along by his ability to buy "adult" magazines), and he gets to have some good old fashioned wholesome fun (well, other than the aforementioned magazines). Treehouses and sleepovers abound, and it seems that everything is going swimmingly. The audience is left wondering if maybe Jack should have been sent to school from the start, if children are inherently accepting, and if maybe this strange condition isn't quite as terrible as it first seems.
One of the most painful scenes in the film comes as Jack stays behind after class to awkwardly ask his teacher if she would maybe go to the school dance with him. Far beyond just a crush, Jack is asking because, well, she's the only girl that's near his size. Her refusal is gut-wrenching, as we realize that even if Jack fits into a treehouse, he's still going to miss out on some of the most important parts of being a pre-teen.
Then, just when you think that it can't get any worse, Jack stumbles as he is running away from his disappointment, clutching his chest as he collapses from a coronary. His heart quite literally broke.
How Does A Ten Year Old Face Mortality?
Dealing with death isn't something that comes easily to anyone. Really recognizing and coping with the fact that one day, you will leave this world is a truth that adults struggle with - and this movie decided to show us how it felt when a ten year old has a heart attack.
A kid who has just been turned down for his first school dance, who has so far only really seen his condition in terms of how it makes him look, suddenly has to come to terms with the idea that he's just not going to live past his twenties. And as if seeing a happy-go-lucky boy grapple with existential despair isn't gut-wrenching enough, lets not forget the parents in all this. A couple who has given everything to try and give their only son a wonderful life now really, truly, realizes that they are going to have to watch their child die. Not fight a potentially fatal illness, not get taken from them in an accident, but stand by and care for them as they die of old age.
Are You Weeping Yet?
Of course, the film can't just end on that level of hopelessness, or no one would ever watch it a second time. Instead, having made us cry with empathy over something we have all felt, then sob in sympathy with something that most of us will never deal with, Jack wraps up with some gloriously cathartic inspirational weeping.
Despite being only ten, Jack somehow manages (with a little help from his friends) to dust himself off, put a smile back on his face, and head back to school with his classmates. We end with Jack, against all odds, making it to the ripe old age of eighteen, and giving the Valedictorian speech at his high school before riding away with his friends for a graduation party.
This is the ultimate tear-jerking finale, as the septuagenarian Jack tells reminds his friends, and us, that life is short, and we all need to make ourselves spectacular.
This article wouldn't be complete without a mention of the late, great, Robin Williams. Knowing that he is no longer with us makes this incredibly poignant film just that little bit more bittersweet. A perfect role to sum up the incredible actor and comedian who always seemed to still have the heart of a young boy, Jack's final speech now holds another layer of meaning.