Monday, July 9, 2012

Vacation -- journeys, quests and fun

Director: Harold Ramis, 1983 (R).

Ah. The sun is up and school's out. The pungent aroma of sunscreen floats in the air. It's summer and vacation is calling out to you. What's more American than a cross-country road-trip for your summer vacation. (I know, I am going on one later this summer!) But we have probably all experienced the pains of such a vacation and that is what makes this classic comedy so much fun -- we can relate to Clark Griswold as he wrestles with the wheel and the family on this vacation. And fun and quests and journeys are the underlying themes of this archetypical road-trip movie.

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is a meek mannered Chicago manager who is ready to take Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) and their two kids, Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron), on a summer vacation. Their destination: Los Angeles, home of Wally World and the mascot Marty Moose (think Disney World and Mickey Mouse).

Right from the start, though, things go wrong. His new car is not what he ordered. But he takes it anyway. Along the way, they experience a black ghetto in St Louis, a crummy campground in Colorado, and of course the red-neck, hillbilly cousins in Kansas. Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) is the relative to avoid at all costs and he depletes Clark's cash while adding to his stress by adding obnoxious Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) and her vicious dog Dinky to the Griswold troop.

To many, this comedy is familiar while retaining its humor. Who can forget the picture of all four Griswold's asleep in the car as it moves along the highway, steering itself. Or the problem that Aunt Edna becomes and the Griswold solution. And there is Christie Brinkley, the seductress in the red Ferrari, whose appeal strikes a note in "family-loving" Clark.

At the beginning the kids and Ellen ask Clark why they were planning on driving. He replied, "Why aren't we flying? Because getting there is half the fun."  The road trip is a metaphor for life. A road trip, like life, is a journey. It is not just getting to the destination that is crucial, but experiencing and enjoying the journey is all part of the adventure. Missing this is missing out.

The Christian life is like this. Too often we come to Christ and want to be perfected, to have all our problems disappear in a twinkling of an eye. But they don't. And we aren't made perfect. But we will be. The initial conversion is the act of regeneration and justification. We are made new (2 Cor. 5:17), reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18), forgiven (Eph. 1:7) and justified (Rom. 10:10). But we are not made perfect. This is a process called sanctification, where we become progressively more like Jesus as we grow in him (Rom. 8:29-30). Such growth culminates in glorification at our destination: departure to be with Jesus at death. To short-circuit this process, to truncate the trip, is to miss the grand venture we call life.

That is not to say Clark had it all right. He had planned the journey to the day, even the hour. I can resonate with this, having grown up in a family of detailed planners. (Heck, I am one myself!) But a road-trip or a journey should be flexible and free enough to experience the moments, to take side detours and to be able to bend when troubles appear. Without such buffer stress increases and the journey deteriorates into a drill.

This is what happens to Clark. Towards the end, his stress level causes him to explode: "We're ten hours from the *!**ing fun park and you want to bail out. Well I'll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun. I'm gonna have fun and you're gonna have fun." Fun is now not something they will find along the way; it is something that is mandated. There is no fun in this.

Over-planned and over-troubled vacations can turn from fun into fury via such a slow simmer. This, of course, defeats the whole point of a vacation, which is to get away, to empty your mind of work and mundane matters, and find rest and recreate. We all need such sabbaticals. It is even biblical, the concept of the sabbatical arising from the seventh day of creation week when God rested from his work (Gen. 2:2).

Fun, though, is what Clark wanted. And family time, too. He wanted to spend more time with his kids and thought being cooped up in a car with them for hours on end would provide this. He was so wrong. Oh, his heart was in the right place but his mind took a left turn when he saw the babe in the sports car. At that point, fun seemed to be in the greener grass of the red Ferrari. Certainly, he would have found momentary enjoyment in the arms of this younger woman, but he would have sacrificed his family and their fun on this adulterous altar. That price is too high. True fun, for Clark or for us, should be found in familial and social amusement, not at the cost of damaged or destroyed relationships. Such a vacation would find its destination a divorce court, and that is clearly not is or was planned at the start.

All in all, this road-trip from hell is a slightly vulgar but hilarious movie that everyone should see once, if only to put vacations into perspective.

Copyright ©2012, Martin Baggs

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