Film Logan Polk's Film Reviews Moving Pictures Ongoing Series

Moving Pictures Vol. 6: Saving What We Love

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Logan’s Moving Pictures closes out our year with a discussion about the Holiday season and what it means to his family.

Christmas is so many things for my family that’s it’s hard to really know where to begin to talk about it.

It’s the day my mother was born (Happy Birthday, Mom!). It’s pancake breakfast at my Dad’s house and dinner at my Mom’s. When we were kids, and the family wasn’t quite so big, it was afternoon’s at my aunt’s with all my cousins, my mom getting lost on the way out there. Of course, it’s presents under a tree. A few different trees after my parents were divorced in fact. Then as we got older it changed, evolved, as I imagine most people’s do. These days it’s a lot. In every possible positive and negative connotation of that phrase, Christmas is A LOT.

But one thing Christmas has always been since Ryan and I were too young to remember, is The Movies.

I have a vague knowledge of how the tradition started; my great aunt and uncle, godparents to my two sisters, would get them every Christmas Eve and treat them to a day of fun, so my dad decided that he’d take Ryan and I out to a movie while they went and had their day. In my mind, this happened specifically on Christmas Eve every year, but I know that wasn’t the case. There were plenty of years my dad would be working that day, so we’d go the day after Christmas, or maybe a few days before. But, the tradition stood all the same.

When my dad remarried it got expanded for a time to include my step-sisters and step-mother on occasion. Then after they split up it was back to just the three of us. Eventually, my father got it right and found His Person and several years later we had a baby brother, Avi. Three became four, and now in recent years, it’s come to include most of my immediate family. But still, the tradition has stood the test of time.

I mentioned this briefly in my first column, but the first film my father and I saw without Ryan wasn’t in Christmas of 2020 after he’d passed, it was actually three years earlier in 2017 when most of the family went to see The Last Jedi

Our First Christmas movie without Ryan

At the time Ryan was in the hospital, had been for a number of weeks, and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. I had been holding out hope that he would be out for the holiday, and when the day came and it was evident that we were going to have to embark on the tradition without one of its pioneers…it was maybe one of the saddest moments of my life.

No. That’s not accurate. It wasn’t an outright sad moment. It was melancholy.

Most of that same group of people had been to see The Force Awakens the Christmas of 2015, and so we were all rightfully excited to go see the sequel. And, as sad as I was that Ryan wouldn’t be with us, I was so happy to have my nieces coming back to another Star Wars film, a franchise they showed no interest in until Rey came onto the scene. Unfortunately, they’ve since gone back to their original opinions on the franchise. But, I had them for a moment or two.

I’d like to say this was the first Star Wars movie I’d seen in the theatre without my twin brother, but I can’t really remember what our relationship was around the time of the Prequel premieres. Either way, on Christmas Day of 2017 I walked into a theater with most of my immediate family and sat down to watch The Last Jedi.

I can still remember how palpable it all was. The logo popping into frame, the crowd cheering. Poe Dameron making his jokes as he and the Resistance fighters wrought havoc among the First Order fleet. Luke tossing the lightsaber aside after Rey handed it to him. Finn and Rose. Rey and Kylo speaking through the Force. The throne room battle. The final rescue. The death of a Jedi. And so very much in between.

I was blown away at the backlash when it started coming. Sure, the Canto Bite scenes are superfluous and a bit of a mess, the Mary Poppins scene looks a little ‘meh’, and Luke is a bitter old man. But…that’s Star Wars. I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. So, I’m not going to spend any time on the critics and naysayers of The Last Jedi.

Instead, I’ll tell you that sitting in that theatre watching it while my twin brother was lying in a hospital bed was incredibly profound for me. I don’t know that I’d ever been moved to tears by a Star Wars film before that day. There were moments in The Clone Wars animated series, specifically Ahsoka’s goodbye, that had brought them up, but not anything in any of the films that I recall. But, I wept through a lot of The Last Jedi.

Sure, my emotions were particularly high; brother in the hospital, family in tow to share in the experience, it’s Christmas…all contributing factors. None of it changes the fact that I made a deep emotional connection with the movie. I had a very similar reaction to The Force Awakens, as it premiered weeks after the death of my Uncle Glen, one of the most influential people in my life and a huge Star Wars fan himself. I often wonder if I’d been dealing with yet another round of grief when The Rise of Skywalker was released if it would have had a bigger impact on me.

The emotional connection to both films has waned a bit in the years since, and rewatching The Last Jedi this time around I found it easier to accept that the film has some pretty massive flaws. I don’t think the ones that most people took umbrage with are really flaws in the film though. Luke’s journey is one that we’d actually seen play out before in the Original Trilogy, and it honestly makes sense considering what transpired between he and Kylo/Ben. Rose and Finn are young, naïve idealists who want desperately for their lives (and possible deaths) to mean something. We’ve literally all been in their shoes. And the kiss is just a kiss, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s not a shoehorned romance, it’s a person caught up in the moment doing what they thought they should do.

Then there’s the dialogue, specifically Rose’s words to Finn; “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love.”

It’s hokey. Cheesy. Goofy. Maybe it’s even bad. But, that’s Star Wars. Going back to the originals, Harrison Ford famously complained ad nauseum about the words they were told to say. So, yeah, I love it. Since my rewatching it I’ve been thinking a lot about that specific quote though, and how to apply it to the grief I struggle with every day.

It must have been a good Christmas with those goofy smiles.

What I’m going to say next probably won’t be easy to read, especially for anyone that knew and loved my brother. I hesitate to call it a trigger warning, but it is a warning nonetheless. I’m not going to speak for anyone else in my family, or any number of his friends, just for myself and my life with him.

Since Ryan passed away I’ve really struggled with coming to terms with the multiple facets of his personality. Certainly, there was a very fun, witty, sharp person who loved people, did his best to help them, and dearly cared for his family. But there was also a miserable person in there, who came out far more often than I cared to ever deal with. He’d probably say the same for me.

There were long stretches of my life where I hated my brother. Hated the way he treated me, hated the way he treated others that loved him, and definitely hated the way he failed to take any kind of real care of himself, hated that his addictions often got the better of him. We fought often, especially as teenagers and young adults. I was suspended from school for jumping him after he and his friends repeatedly bullied me. I found out that at one point he’d made out with my high school girlfriend, though I held it against her far more than I ever did him. I once bought a car from him that he went on to wreck before he gave it to me, and later in life helped him sell a car he didn’t need for almost nothing when I was in need of one but couldn’t pay him immediately. There were many drunken blowups I subjected myself to during countless card games, and one in particular when I snapped and got physical. He could be a jerk, to put it mildly, though I am definitely not without fault in our dust-ups. And truly, he knew how to cut deep.

So, sometimes it’s very tough to sit and just think about the good, to fight off the thoughts of all those horrible times we had at each other’s throats, or all the times I witnessed him act atrociously to other people who loved him very much. In true Star Wars fashion, it’s an anger that leads to hate that leads to suffering.

So, I stopped fighting it. I stopped fighting the things I hated about my brother. They existed, they were part of him, part of us, they happened. And it sucks. More than anything it just sucks that he didn’t see the value in taking care of himself until it was too late. And I hate it so much. But I let myself think about all of it, and then it passes. Like a wave crashing onto a shore, it breaks apart and you’re left waiting for the next one.

And once I get through that, I’m okay again. 

Well, as okay as I can be swimming in an ocean of grief. But, that’s when the good memories come flooding in. Those are the ones I wallow in now. 

I’ll spend an hour just thinking about all the packs of trading cards we opened at my grandmother’s kitchen table. I’ll watch the Falcons play football and have discussions with him that probably make me sound insane. I’ll watch an episode of Flash or Batwoman and think about the many talks we had about those CW superhero shows. I’ll remember all of the good times we had podcasting together, though I still can’t bring myself to listen to them.

So many good memories, so much love….

I used to wonder why it was when people died that it seemed like no one ever really had anything bad to say about them. It’s only been in the aftermath of losing Ryan and coping with my own grief that I realized that it’s because it doesn’t matter. No one was ever good and perfect all the time, or even most of the time, and we loved them anyway. So there’s no sense in dwelling there. People don’t want to dwell in the bad memories, so they don’t. They just stop fighting what they hate and begin saving what they love.

Moving Pictures will return in two weeks …

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