Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Accidental Tourist -- running from life


Director: Lawrence Kasdan, 1988. (PG)

The Accidental Tourist is a slow and small film. Combining elements of romance, drama and comedy it blends these together to produce a tender and somewhat bitter-sweet film that leaves the viewer reflecting on life's ups and downs.

The protagonist is Macon Leary (William Hurt, The Village), a Baltimore travel writer whose guidebooks helps business travelers transit without trouble, with the minimum of fuss and as little impact as possible. He can tell them where to find hamburgers in Paris, or how much laundry soap packets to take to Atlanta. But he can't deal with his own life. He is sleep-walking through reality.

Married to Sarah (Kathleen Turner), their marriage is on the rocks, and he doesn't even know it. Having lost a son in a fast-food robbery-shooting a year earlier, Macon has retreated into himself. He has not worked through his grief. His isolation has caused Sarah to think she needs separation from him, perhaps to connect with another, to come to terms with this heavy loss.

Macon summarizes his philosophy of life in a comment about films: "I don't really care for movies; they make everything seem so close up." Life, up close and personal, is a scary thing for Macon. So he avoids it, by distancing himself from people and things. Even his books focus on how to avoid interacting with others.

Life will always have adversity, peaks and valleys. That is expected. If we avoid the valleys through self-isolation, we miss out on the high notes too. Life is meant to be lived in relationship. When God made Adam, he saw that he was alone and that it was not good (Gen. 2:18). The only time this phrase (not good) occurs in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis is related to Adam's isolation. So God made Adam a companion, Eve (Gen. 2:22-24). Apart from friendships, life becomes colorless and dour, even depressing. As Macon says, "Now I'm far from everyone. I don't have any friends anymore."

Into his life, though, comes Muriel Pritchard (Geena Davis, Thelma and Louise). When he needs to go on another business trip, his wife is no longer available to care for his dog, a Welsh corgi, and so resorts to a boarding kennel, and Muriel is the dog-trainer managing the place. She is his total opposite. Flighty, friendly, outgoing, gawky, she is a single mom who is willing to push for what she wants. And surprisingly she wants Macon. He, though, wants nothing to do with her.

After Sarah leaves him, Macon moves in with his siblings, a curious bunch who are as aloof as he is. Together, they settle into a tired routine that could almost be considered non-living, an uneventful existence. Macon thinks he needs Sarah but she has not helped him. What he really needs is Muriel. She helps him break out of the suffocating rut of this routine.

Muriel runs after Macon much like God runs after us. She offers him unconditional love and a tolerance for his shortcomings. Isn't this what most of us really want, deep-down? God offers exactly this. His love has no strings attached. Once our sins are forgiven, they are cast aside, as far as east is from west (Psa. 103:12). He keeps no record of our wrongs (1 Cor. 13:5).

Macon puts his finger on what is happening to him as his relationship with Muriel develops: "I'm beginning to think that maybe it's not just how much you love someone. Maybe what matters is who you are when you're with them." He loved Sarah. But ultimately this did not help his marriage. He was not available to her emotionally in the latter part of their relationship. He needed to be there with her. Muriel showed him who he could be. Though it led to an adulterous relationship, he needed Muriel to be able to develop as a person.

Who do we need to grow as people? Are we allowing our spouses to help us grow and blossom, thereby changing and maturing into the people God wants us to be? If we are not, we run the risk of becoming like Macon, looking outside the marriage for meaningful relationships. God has created the institution of marriage as the nucleus of human relationships. As we open up to one another, our intimacy grows and our characters develop. We do not need a Muriel in our lives if we are willing to be open to the Sarahs we are married to.

Geena Davis plays a terrific Muriel, and worthily won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She has a shotgun approach, spewing words and thoughts a mile a minute. Hers is a zany spontaneity that is balanced by practical ideas that work.

One of her practical ideas causes me to stop and reflect on its application for my life. Teaching Macon to train his dog, she tells him to cluck when the dog does something right, as an encouragement, a means of positive feedback. How often do I fail to do this when training my children? Encouragement is critical. Yet, I find myself criticizing more than I praise. I can learn from Muriel. I need to cluck more at my children!

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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