I feel as though I’ve rewritten this essay about two dozen times. And then some reactions to a tweet sent by someone I greatly admire brought me to the point where I rewrote it again.
Perhaps some of you reading this know I don’t often discuss “newer” films. With a handful of exceptions, I generally keep my cinematic ponderings to the 50s through the mid-90s. I have my reasons for my general enjoyment and respect for that time period of movie making. Nevertheless, there have been two recent films I will be writing about – and my thoughts today are on the film The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot.
Certainly, the title alone makes it difficult to provide any spoilers as the man in question, Calvin Barr, portrayed impeccably by Sam Elliot, does in fact kill Hitler and some decades later, bigfoot. But the story is so much more than that. Or at least it is to me. And a certain trend has endeared this movie to me all the more. For the record, I am not vain enough to tell you that what I take from the film is what the creators had in mind at all. But I believe film, like all great art speaks to each person and meets them where they are at.
I suppose a general synopsis of the film is needed before I begin to pontificate. We meet Calvin Barr in 1987. Having had the honor of growing up around the men who fought in the second world war, Elliott’s quiet stoicism is familiar to me (and probably many people my age). He is at the age where one begins to take stock of their life and what will be left behind when they leave. We are shown in flashbacks, with the younger Barr played perfectly by Aidan Turner, of Barr meeting the love of his life – a romance cut short by the war and we proceed to see Barr’s infiltration of a Nazi base to put an end to Hitler.
We meet a man who may have saved the world (although to do that he would have needed to kill Stalin too I suppose) but, takes no joy in having done it. This rings true to me. I can’t speak for others, but the men I have spoken with who fought in WWII, Korea or Vietnam took no joy in what they did – even if in doing so they saved others. I never pushed the question, but I assume the reason for that is no person wants to take joy in death, even death perpetrated for the greater good (or at least perceived that way at the time).
Back in 1987, Calvin gets a haircut from his brother Ed portrayed by comedian Larry Miller (a fave of mine) in a truly awe-inspiring dramatic turn. He opens up to his brother about what weighs heavy on him. The scenes between these two really affected me – in one scene Calvin asks to just sit next to his brother and say nothing. And yet, as they sit there quietly, everything that needs to be said…is said.
We hear through news broadcasts of strange disappearances in Canada – what is going on? A serial killer perhaps? Representatives from the US and Canadian governments pay a visit to Barr and tell him what is killing people – Bigfoot, who carries disease and is wiping out people and animals at an alarming rate. It turns out Barr is immune…and a tracker. And once again Calvin Barr is called on to save the world.
I will leave some of the surprises and subplots for you to discover on your own – and I truly hope you do. I always hope people will take the time to catch some of the films I write about if they haven’t seen them prior – but, I especially hope that is the case with this film. And, I’ll admit, much of that has to do with my age.
A quick perusal of my social media lately has introduced me to the phrase “OK Boomer”. Now, I can take a joke as much as the next person and if I couldn’t take a bit of ribbing from time to time, I doubt I’d have any friends at all. And, some of the “OK Boomer” things I’ve seen have been pretty funny.
And some of it hasn’t.
I’m not a boomer. Missed it by two years. And, of course, neither is Calvin Barr. But, there is a subtext to the “OK Boomer” trend that is a bit more nefarious than it seems on it surface. And there was something about watching this film and seeing some of my peers dismissed and their views denigrated by the Boomer response that whipped me into a bit of a frenzy.
Calvin Barr is haunted by time…and regrets. I would suggest that anyone who has actually tried to live a life will find that life, even one well lived, comes with regrets. It is as unavoidable a part of life as breathing. Humans have the gift (or curse) of introspection and reflection. As one gets older, decisions are not made merely based on the facts at hand but with the weight of experience as well. Both Barr brothers deal with this. In fact, Ed says of his brother “I didn't get to know Calvin the way a brother should, but I'll miss him. I always...missed him.” When Calvin and Ed sit quietly, they are speaking and I think we they are talking about are their regrets – regrets of time lost, words said…and not said.
So Jake, you may be asking, what does this have to do with the “OK Boomer” meme? Well, I guess it is like this. I think each generation stomping around the planet right now should cut each other a bit of a break. Parts of me haven’t changed – I have loved movies for as long as I can remember. But at almost 53, I don’t know if I would even recognize me at 19. And I think that is a good thing. If anyone my age is unchanged from High School I think I’d feel bad for you. I don’t think I’d much agree with 19-year-old me, but, I’m glad I had opinions at that age. I’m glad I wasn’t just a blob of mindless nothingness, and I’m glad I’ve had three decades of experiences that have made me who am I today.
But, I’m also glad my kids are who they are as well. They have not been idle bystanders, and I’m proud of that. Do I believe when they are my age, they will feel the same about things as they do today. On principle alone I hope not because I believe that means they stopped experiencing life and all it has to offer. I hope they maintain a set of core beliefs but allow the lessons of living to teach them.
What I think the OK Boomer movement fails to realize at best, and chooses to mock at worst is, everyone comes to the table with the scars and regrets of fighting the battles day-to-day. So, just as I need to be less grumpy old man and realize the generation behind me is doing their best with the experiences that are building them, I feel that should be reciprocated. I’m not suggesting everyone needs to agree with one another – I fear a world of lockstep minions. I’m just suggesting each have some respect for one another because the opinions each hold are not snatched out of the ether but determined by what they experience day to day.
And that experience will bring about regrets…
Calvin and Ed Barr were honorable men – but that did not save them from regrets. In fact, sometimes being honorable and making the decision for the greater good are the very decision that can cause the greatest pain of regret. And, I don’t know that I’ve seen a film recently that so poignantly portrayed that pain. So, as a film with the unlikely title The Man who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot came to a close, I had to really take stock of my life.
So youngsters, before you let loose with your OK Boomer – take a moment to consider the ups and downs, pain and happiness and regrets that brought that person to the opinion or belief they have. Likewise, Boomers and Gen X compatriots…maybe cut the kids a bit of a break. That was you once…and they are doing the best they can. In time, they will be you…but they must take the journey first. Experience is earned… not given.
I watched this film on Hulu, but I will be picking up the physical media over the holiday season. Do yourself a huge favor and check it out. Come for the title…stay for the insight.