Monday, July 4, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence - An Open Letter to my Dad

Dear Dad -

Independence Day: Resurgence has been declared to be a terrible sequel across the board by movie critics (31% on rotten tomatoes) and other audience members (37% on rotten tomatoes), and I don't claim to be a critic. But, if you're interested in my personal opinion as to why I enjoyed it (and it relates to you), and are prepared for a few spoiler bits, read on.

Firstly,  and some argue that this doesn't count, but I really like that this film starts by knocking the Bechdel test out of the park. The new female president compliments Peggy Whitmore on the speech she had written for the big celebration of 20 years since the aliens were defeated, and they talk (albeit briefly) about the planned celebration. It passes the test again when two women (the mom from the first movie - the one who marries Will Smith, because I can't remember her name right now even though I know she has one) and another nurse (whom she does speak to by name). I realize that test has flaws, but I tend to use it as a personal metric, and it started out on that good note for me. And since you know how I feel about that kind of thing, and always encouraged me to be/do anything I wanted, I thought you'd like the Bechdel test moments too.

However, what really stuck out to me in the Independence Day: Resurgence film (and what actually stuck out to me about the first Independence Day movie) was the way it portrays parent/child relationships. In the first film, it was the relationship between the drunk pilot (Russel Casse) and his son - to be brief, it made me cry that the moment he finally missed and respected his father was the moment his father sacrificed everything for his kids - something that it hits again in the second film.

In the sequel particularly, it was the relationship between the now adult Peggy Whitmore and her aging, former presidential father, Tom Whitmore. And I think, had the movie spent more time with these characters, it would have gotten more approval from wider audiences than just me. Because these are really interesting characters, and there are a few scenes of their relationship that really made me think of you, my own Dad.

In this film, Tom Whitmore is fighting a mental disorder left behind as a result of the previous film (when the invaded his mind). He's mostly coherent, but is connected to the alien hive brain and therefore suffers occasional strong headaches related to the alien queen. And he's grown old, so his daughter has a caretaker for him, and has given up her career as a fighter pilot to work in the White House to be near him. Dad Whitmore really hates this. She is constantly worried about him and trying to take care of him, while he continually tries to encourage her to keep pushing forward in her career - and I think that has a lot of interesting implications for grown-up children and parents - who takes care of whom? Does the parent/child relationship ever change? I think the child in the relationship might try to make it change, but Tom Whitmore shows that "you'll always be my little girl" kind of emotion that I have witnessed from you towards me and my sisters. (not only you, but in friends/church parents as well). Like the moment Abigail didn't get to be a Pitt Pathfinder, or the moment Bethany's job really sucked this past summer.

Anyways, on to the real moment that had me in tears, and the moment that turned the movie from a fun alien flick I was seeing just for Ryan's sake into a movie that made me think of you, and has stuck with me in the two weeks since I've seen it. One of the common criticisms I've seen for this film is that the characters don't make us care enough about the end of the world narrative, because they're so flat - and I just have to disagree with them based on this one moment, and the daddy/daughter relationship in it.

It goes like this. Peggy Whitmore has volunteered to be the pilot who will drive the nuke into the heart of the alien mother ship (note that this is a suicide mission). She believes her fiancee Jake has died in the fight against the aliens, and wants to do the same. Her father volunteers to go in her place, saying that she's the one who has to carry on the world after the aliens are gone, and she says to his caretaker "under no circumstances is he getting on that plane". She's about to board when the caretaker (his name is Matthew) comes running out to tell her that her Dad has collapsed. She runs inside to an empty room. She turns to Matthew who says "Peggy, he asked me as a friend. As a father...", and the screen pans to her stricken face, then cuts to Tom Whitmore in the cockpit, taking off.

That moment really stuck out to me. I thought of all the fathers I know with daughters. I thought of what it would be like, if father to father, they asked each other for something. And I feel like that's a real moment. A real character, with depth and emotion, agreeing to let his friend go on a suicide mission to save his daughter - not because he wants his friend to die, but because father to father he understands that parental bond. And I burst into tears. That moment - the ask, the sacrifice, the daughter's frustration at her dad's circumventing her - it just felt so real to me.

OK, back to the movie. Peggy runs out to the hanger and gets into a plane. She flies up next to her Dad who says "It's good to see you flying again". She's crying, and she's a little bit accusatory of him for doing it in her place. He's totally not apologetic for his choice to deceive her, even though she's mad - he wants to save her. He's proud of her for volunteering, but he's sacrificing his life for her, and he doesn't apologize for that. He turns toward her and says "can you cover me, Lt. Whitmore?" and she says "Yes, Sir". And that's it. Those are the last words between father and daughter. He flies into the ship, and she covers him so that his sacrifice can be worthwhile, and she cries as the nuke explodes. And I cried with her.

Part of why I cried I think is that she said "Yes, Sir" as her last words. A long running memory I have of growing up is you asking us to call you Sir - kind of as a joke, I think - almost always after the sound of music movie, with Capt. Von Trapp and his kids. And my sisters and I always refused. In fact, we were kind of annoyed. When I saw that bit, I could almost hear you in my head, asking if, in that same situation, would I respond in the same way. Because you like to do that with movies - try to apply good lessons to real life. Remember when we watched Spanglish and you made us write essays about it afterwards?

I couldn't handle the scene where an adult daughter was mourning her Dad's death. Because that sacrifice stuck with me. Because the moment of pride, of protection, of trying to be the daughter he deserved, and of that unconditional Dad love just stuck with me.

So thanks, Dad. Thanks for being the kind of Dad that made that kind of moment so poignant for me. And maybe you and mom should spring for the tickets to see Independence Day: Resurgence, so you can see this scene for yourself. Ignore the rest of the movie. Just watch for this one scene.

- E