During a recent discussion with one of the precious-generation, I found myself on the opposite side of a deep chasm called “age”. The conversation turned to movies (as it inevitably does in my circle) and we ended up talking mostly about two films, Bronson and Away We Go. I forget how we got on the topic of the easily-dismissible Away We Go – I'm guessing it was spurred on by the latest Roncesvalles yuppie horror-story or another – but when I asked what the youngsters thought of it, I got this rather surprising response.....
“I found it hopeful, a testament to the idea that you can break the mold and live life on your own terms”, came the oh-so-wonderfully-youthful response.
A crack opened in the floor and wrenched us apart in generationally-opposed directions.
Away We Go is an accidentally-astonishing work of piercing insight and I'm guessing it divides viewers, pro and con, almost exactly across life's midpoint. It probably articulates the world of Gen-Y slackers, circa 2010, better than any other movie in recent memory. It takes Dave Eggers’ self-obsessed, solipsistic, media-savvy/technically inept Applelets and releases them like butterflies into a world where they flap around in aimless pursuit of the perfect life. Mostly though, they just talk.., and talk... and talk... without a hint of irony about how difficult it is to communicate effectively. They endlessly ruminate about committing to remaining indecisive about commitment to a life that won't tie them down. They drift around sampling other people's existences, vicariously trying different lives on for size like they would clothes at Banana Republic. They contribute little and consume much, living like quasi-parasites off the miscues and drama of other people's real and necessary choices. They sneer and jeer at a series of grotesque family portraits as they float through them like pre-deceased zombies. The Peter Pan Syndrome so endemic to the 20-something layabout-messiah cohort has found a voice in Away We Go. The title alone is worthy of a special kind of head-slapping derision because on nearly every conceivable intellectual level, the two at the centre of the story are completely stationary. The hypocrisy of the latest generation is laid bare - and in a whirling dervish of jaw-dropping oblivion, Away We Go is found to be, of all things, “hopeful”.
The youngsters took a dimmer view of Bronson, finding it had little to say about their sunshine and iPop world. Viewed side by side, their youthful perspectives on these two films form a curious diptych. The first, Away We Go, apparently successfully epitomizes the burning desire for endless, boundless freedom so important to the precious-generation, the grand designs they have for themselves to create art, think deep thoughts, and live la vie boheme with a ever-present thin crusting of dried cappuccino foam on their upper lips, while the other, Bronson, a story about the ultimate outsider (and a man who, for the better part of the last 35 years, society hasn't been allowed to leave a 10' by 10' cell ….because he'll likely just fuck somebody up) clearly missed the mark - with them at least. They seemed particularly troubled by a scene in Bronson where Charley is pumped full of anti-psychotic mood-stabilizers, unable to do much other than drool, grunt and sit there. Not being able to broadcast might be this generations greatest fear. Can you still work an iPhone hopped up on 30cc's of Chlordiazepoxide? hmmmmm...... doubtful - the horror.... the horror....
The strangest thing about these two films is they're basically about the same thing: freedom. In Bronson, Charley never develops much beyond that of an adolescent. He never matures, never learns, his authority-defined experiences are controlled and repetitious and as a result he seems nearly unchanged nearing the end of his journey through the British penal system. In Away We Go, John and Maya never develop much beyond adolescence either. They also never mature, never learn, their marketer-defined experiences are equally false and repetitious and as they end their journey through the American parenting system, the result is the remarkably similar. I'd call neither result “hopeful” but given the choice, I'd take prison. At least in time you can get out of prison and be an ex-con. You can never be an ex-Gen-Y'er.
The metaphorical crack that opened in the floor between my young stargazing dinner companions and myself is a bit of a double edged sword. I've got mixed emotions about not being able to occupy the headspace necessary to see the world through those wonderfully-naïve eyes anymore. If I could go back to the aimless self-obsession and self-important world of school, part-time jobs, pounding brews and discussing the esoteric, I'm not sure I would though. There is a time and place for those thoughts during the halcyon days of our youth that makes the world a more livable one. There is also a time to get on with it and get shit done. Great joy can come from both periods, provided you can come to terms with being on the other side of the canyon. It's a difficult thing – letting go of fanciful youthful oblivion and embracing maturity but sooner or later, you gotta recognize that it's happened.... and there's fuck all you can do about it but smile and nod when the youngsters express amusingly hopeful thoughts.
Realizing Bronson is ultimately closer to the way we go than Away We Go will come in due course. There's no point rushing it.