Written by Nimue Wafiya
What makes a good film?
On live TV, movie legend Francis Ford Coppola disclosed that a deep yearning to tell a story exactly as imagined ⎼ to have the same vision outputted as seen going in ⎼ is key to keeping the integrity of a film and the respect and admiration of the movie critics who ultimately drop the gavel on whether a film is good or not. It’s a proper sentiment about the core of a quality movie, but the mastermind behind as large a success as The Godfather must have some unique modus operandi to have kicked all those successful pictures into gear.
In a more recent interview, he revealed that the paramount source of his inspiration is his family. As innate as it sounds to channel creativity by relating to personal, and often familial experiences, it can be easy to be thrown off by the sheer animosity or cowardice of the way you handled a particular situation when you didn’t have the bigger, clearer picture. It can feel particularly easy to filter or even omit such retrospects – a surefire way to diminish the value of your work.
He then followed up with an example from one of his latest works: Tetro. At one point in the film, the main character’s father bellows,
“There can only be one genius in the family!”.
Coppola was queried about the origins of such a vile remark and could only offer a look of inscrutability. There was no rhyme or reason, it was just a sentence uttered by his family member, and he knew that somehow, the audience would resonate with it.
When families are portrayed realistically on screen, it’s because someone extended the vulnerability of showcasing not only their own shortcomings, but those of people whom they still show love for today; there’s a trust that exists like no other.
It’s no secret that more often than not, our favorite families in film have a lot of issues, as seen in Tetro. So here are a few on-screen families that pack a lot of lessons (and drama), to help us accept our own unit a little bit more.
Rick & Morty: The Smiths and The Rise in Dysfunctional Families
Rick and Morty is about the many adventures of Rick, a genius alcoholic and careless scientist, with his grandson Morty, an anxious 14-year-old boy. Morty’s immediate family (the Smiths) is also integral to the show, providing more backstory to a seemingly superficial plot.
This series has all the juicy pull factors: following the “most intelligent being in the universe” (Rick), travelling through dimensions (in a space cruiser powered by an entire civilization), and the perfect ratio of timely, witty humor and absolute asinine tomfoolery (butt jokes).
There’s so much going on that viewers tend to overlook what this show is truly all about. At its core, Rick and Morty is a family drama. The creators did such a spiffing job at wrapping the show up in enticing elements that you could say we’ve been catfished into watching yet another soap opera about a dysfunctional family.
In brief, a dysfunctional family generally consists of: parents with personal issues that prevent them from being attentive caretakers and children who are either forced to grow up too fast or have adopted their own dysfunctional traits as coping mechanisms. If this concept sounds familiar it’s because it’s pretty commonplace.
In an episode titled ‘Total Rickall’ (season 2, episode 4), alien parasites intrude the Smith household. This alien species invade planets by planting false memories of themselves as beloved members of the household in the heads of their victims. They multiply whenever their presence is believed by the victims. Morty eventually discovers that an easy way to distinguish his real family is to recall a bad memory with the person in question; the parasites only have good memories with the Smiths. A sequence of awful memories from each real family member follows: Beth accidentally giving Summer a black eye, Rick pantsing Morty in front of schoolmates, Jerry abandoning Beth when they were being attacked by an aggressive hobo in a parking lot.
The dysfunction is clear, and just a little bit exaggerated. But at the end of the day, the Smiths have their way of sorting things out and they’re just the mundane stuff: cleaning the house, cracking up at prosaic jokes, getting therapy.
To sum, the Sanchez family puts the “fun” in dysfunctional ⎼ and we can’t help but trust in their messy, ugly love because it satiates the cynic in us. It’s a show that leans far from being morally sound, so the lack of filter means more screen time to delve into the crude realities of a family unit made up of imperfect members.
To Kill A Mockingbird: Atticus Finch as the Ideal Parent
Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ follows Jean ‘Scout’ Finch and her older brother Jem. Scout starts off as a naive 6-year-old daughter to a single father, Atticus Finch, only to become a much wiser 8-year-old by the end of it ⎼ an outcome greatly credited to her father’s parenting.
First and foremost, Atticus Finch (arguably) represents the ideal human being. Placed against the stark racism within Alabama in the 1960s, the fairness and dignity in which he carried out his actions as a lawyer representing a black defendant displayed a moral compass far ahead of its time. Though his heroism in court may indicate the same vitality in his day-to-day excursions, the story proceeds to reveal the opposite. At the end of the day, Atticus Finch unwinds humbly. He reads, silently, until he gets tired, and is always open to his children’s endless questions about life.
His humanist approach to life is shown in the way he raises his children authoritatively (as opposed to raising them in an authoritarian manner). He understands that humans learn best by experiencing, and thus, offers his children honesty and a way to look at situations instead of deciding for them.
At some point, a family member decides to quell Scout’s curiosity when she asked for the meaning of ‘whore-lady’ by giving her a false answer. Atticus reprimands the relative with a quote that perfectly summarises his take on parenting:
“When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness’ sake. But don’t make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles ’em.”
Coraline: Childhood and Wanting ‘Different Parents’
At the core of Tim Burton’s whimsical, fictional tale, is a realistic plot that reveals the other side of the standard parent-child relationship: that a child would do anything for their parent/s, just as a parent would for their child.
Coraline has recently moved into a new home with her parents, leaving behind a set of friends and familiar surroundings. Her parents, hooked on getting their gardening business up and running, ignore her every attempt at gaining their full attention, which only strengthens her wish to have another set of parents (where have we heard that one before?). Eventually, she finds a door to another dimension, revealing a better version of her parents who give her all the attention she needs – but, with a sharp twist.
The phrase “it’s too good to be true” gradually unveils itself throughout the film, and by the end of it, Coraline understands that her real parents are irreplaceable. When things go awry, Coraline finds herself risking it all to get her old life back. It’s an exhilarating race of a film that will open the young viewers’ eyes to the fear of losing what they already have ⎼ it’s a spooky way to teach gratefulness, but the message is clearer for it.
This list is obviously limited to one person’s film list. The number of well-crafted family-oriented works are too great to cover, but I highly recommend digging this genre out because there’s nothing quite as fun and enlightening as the discovery of another family just like yours.