One of our friends anonymously commented to yesterday’s post about the regret of attending his high school reunion with his pregnant wife … and running into the girl to whom he lost his virginity. How could we ever foresee these messy, complicated scenarios from the perspective of sixteen? We can’t. Such is the curse (and blessing) of adolescence.
This got us thinking about movies where the main character gets to do childhood over again. The aforementioned Grosse Pointe Blank isn’t a replay of Martin Q. Blank’s high school experience, but it is an atonement: He’s going back to win the girl he abandoned ten years earlier on prom night. Along the way he kills a guy, declines blow offered to him by a deadbeat classmate (the scene which produced Erin’s favorite line: “For a while … For a while”), and smashes a television over a rival hitman’s head. That’s probably an atypical path of reconciliation, but there are plenty of other examples.
Atonement is about the redemptive possibility of art to correct the mistakes of youth and lives that have gone off course. (Skip the movie, read the book.) Peggy Sue Got Married (one of Erin’s favorites) is another movie with a reunion, only at this one Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) faints and wakes up as a high school student with a chance to do it all over again. Then there’s “Strangers With Candy,” a perverse spoof on the after-school special, about ex-junkie Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris) going back to high school at the age of 46 to learn all the right lessons the wrong way. (Skip the movie, watch the TV show.)
Tobias Wolff’s short story “Bullet in the Brain” is about a dying man’s memories, the most resonant of which is a hot summer day of childhood playing baseball with his friends. Wolff said this about adolescence:
As for writing about youth, I find it compelling because you’re catching people at a moment where, if they turn five degrees in another direction, twenty years down the line they’re going to end up very, very far from where they’d have gone if they had continued on their original course. That’s the way we are when we’re young. We’re always turning by these minute degrees that forever after change the course of our lives.
Wolff concluded, “That situation is inherently interesting for the fiction writer.” Who wouldn’t want to go back and correct the mistakes of our youth so long as it didn’t actually involve doing it all over again?
The Readers Forum continues with this question: If you could (or had to) be a teenager all over again, what would you do differently? Share your wisdom here. Of course, you’re not limited to this subject. Already in the forum, Carl Lindner has banned Ben and Andy Sweeney permanently from his UDF stores, Matthew Leathers has gone table-dancing, and Scott Guldin has showcased his Photoshop prowess. Join the fun!