How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I"m wrong
Can make it our here alone.
--excerpts from "Alone,"
by Maya Angelou
Remember being fourteen? Awkward age. You didn’t seem to fit anywhere. You looked in the mirror and all you saw were zits and maybe braces and ugliness filling the reflection before you. You were struggling with identity, sexuality, friendship and just about everything. Your parents drove you up the wall and you certainly wouldn’t tell them or anybody else how you felt.
So when I saw the movie, The Way, Way Back it was a trip down memory lane for me. Almost anybody who has been an adolescent could identify with Duncan the main character in the film. The movie begins in the 1980’s in a station wagon. Duncan and his mother, her mean-spirited boy friend and his daughter are on their way to a vacation. The mother’s boyfriend yells to the back seat and asks Duncan what does he thinks he is on a scale of one to ten. Duncan doesn’t answer. Because the boy-friend keeps pestering him he finally says: “I think I’m a six.” The mother’s companion yells back: “You’re not a six—you’re a three. What do you know? What can you do? Nothing. You’re a three.” That’s the opening scene of the movie.
Duncan is miserable. He misses his absentee-divorced father. He despises the mother’s caustic boy friend that keeps badgering Duncan to be normal. The poor boy wishes he was anywhere but on that vacation. Maybe, Duncan muses, his supposedly surrogate father is right: Maybe he really is a three. How does he survive? Duncan begins to sneak away to an adjoining water park called Water Wizz. There he meets Owen who gives him a secret job at the water park. In an off-the-wall way Owen helps bring the boy into the circle of the water-park staff. I won’t give away the rest of the movie—but in Owen, a sort of loser in life who works at the water park—I saw a Christ figure. If you have seen the movie you might think I’m crazy—but Owen does for the boy what Jesus did all the way through the Gospels. In a roundabout way, Owen changes the boy’s life.
Some reviewers say this is a totally a sappy movie. I don’t think so. Other reviewers have said it might be one of the best movies of the summer. Every fourteen year old needs an Owen. Somebody who will take them seriously--let them know they count as human beings and give them a vision of possibility for the future.
For years I have tried to find the Spanish-Journalism teacher who taught me so much when I was fourteen and beyond. She listened to me, made me feel important and put dreams in my head. I never did find her—but I wonder where I would be without her nudging and patience with me and a great many others.
So I recommend the film. It is a study of relationships and lack of relationships in a family setting. Out there, all around us are fourteen year olds who are desperate for someone to care for them and teach them that they really are important. They’re in our churches, our schools and the live down the street from us. This film has helped me once again to open my eyes to some pretty important people who never say a word. And, as Maya Angelou reminds us: “But nobody can make it out here alone.”