For some reason, oftentimes, the second watching of a film is more enriching than the first.
Such was the case last night, as I watched Coyote County Loser at its Orange County premier.
This is not the first time I’ve commented on the film.
To tell you the truth, since I’ve watched it before, I really didn’t feel like going. It had been a long, tiring day at work, I had another long, tiring day at work to look forward to the next day, and I had a wife I wanted to see. In the last three weeks, I’ve gotten married, moved into a new place (we still have quite a few boxes to unpack), my wife got a new job, and I got a new job (well, 2 new jobs, sorta). Add in all the other “to dos” that comes along with a new marriage (getting new bank account, changing insurance, etc), and I’m just flat worn out. I even told the producer that I’d have to leave before the end of the film. All this wasn’t because the film sucked (it didn’t…more on that in a minute), but just because I had cashed in my chips long before I arrived.
But I ended up staying the whole time. I even gleefully (yes…gleefully) stayed for the whole Q&A afterwards.
Why? There were no Michael Baysian-like special effects for me to visually gorge on. I was not treated to Lord-of-the-Rings-esque cinematography. What kept me in my seat was the story. My soul was enriched from the get-go. The film caused me to pause and examine my life. When that happens, I’m hooked in.
One such “examination” was this: I saw a lot of myself in Jack, the love-em-and-leave-em heart throb from LA. No, I know I’m no Fabio. Here’s the deal: for much of the film, he was too busy chasing his next big shot to be able to love anyone. That would require him to actually slow down and downshift few gears, which he had no intention of doing. That’s a lot like me; I’ve been so busy lately (actually, it’s not just lately–it’s a constant in my life), for instance, I’ve been desiring but neglecting to write a letter to my grandpa. I thought a while ago, “That’d be nice. I need to communicate with him more, cherish him in deeper ways. A letter would really touch him, I think.” But I keep putting it off. Like Jack, I’m zipping around with a wink too much to slow down enough, and I’ve been like this well before all the recent change. If I don’t put people before the process, I’m gonna end up neglecting and hurting those I care for most.
There were a few motifs in the film that I missed the first time around. Actually, they are so obvious and central in the film that I feel kinda embarrassed to say I missed them the first time around. I caught the main idea of the film: Jack’s view of relationships is totally based on feeling, while Lauren’s view is based around a list of “must haves.” Jack thinks love is a game; Lauren thinks love is a savy business transaction. They find out both their views are horribly wrong–a “legacy” couple–married for 48 years–shows them the main ingredient that starts and keeps love alive: commitment. Over the years, the commitment and sacrifice the couple practices and embodies transforms Fred, the husband, from a shy, awkward farm boy into a confident, joyous romancer.
Perhaps the most notable thing I missed, though, was the car motif. Lauren, the female lead, compared men to cars, claiming that just as you must have a list of what you need in a car when vehicle shopping, so you must have a list of requirements for a man. She called this the “non-negotiable checklist.”
That much I caught the first time, but what I missed was the motif. Cars are all over the place in the film! Lauren’s truck consistently breaks down, mirroring the men she takes to task; Jack drives a snazzy sports car that runs out of gas in the beginning of the film; Lauren gets her knowledge of car repair from her dad–when she was young, her dad had a prized antique car (shown in the film), and working on it was the only way Lauren could gain time with him; a car salesman sponsors the radio station Lauren works at, and she visits the salesman when her truck dies; heck, the “loser” himself even sells junk car parts at a salvage yard, and he wins a loaded pickup truck when he wins the “date” radio contest.
Pretty much all the cars in the film, though, leave the characters feeling empty. Lauren’s truck is a source of constant frustration, and the old car her dad prized is the source of bitter memories. When the loser wins the truck, it just didn’t feel right–yeah, it was a sweet ride, but Lauren’s heart was crushed in the process of him winning it. It is not a coincidence, I’m sure, that Jack and Lauren finally connect over a horse-back ride, which is the antithesis of a car.
All this points to the vacuity of Lauren’s view of love. Her comparison between men and cars is ludicrous, condescending, and leaves both parties feeling empty. Sure, it keeps women from being hurt, but it keeps them lonely too. As C.S Lewis once said,
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.
Lauren’s view, by the way, is not just spouted by frosty psychologist radio hosts in indie movies–it’s all over the place in our culture. Ever hear someone compare their boyfriend or girlfriend to a car when it comes to sex? “We need to find out if we are sexually compatible before we get married. You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it first, would you?”
So…I’m a car that you must test drive before you commit? If that’s not condescending, I don’t know what is.
Jack’s view, however, isn’t any more correct or noble. It is just as vacuous. The emptiness of his view comes through loud and clear through another motif: women themselves. This one is not as prominent as the cars motif, but it’s there. Every woman that Jack “loves and leaves” ends up bitter. His agent, for example, gives him hell for him doing just that. Only when he truly commits to a woman can she feel truly loved, as is the case when he cares for his cancer-stricken sister. Commitment is in him; he just has to apply it in the area of romance to truly embrace what love is all about.
The man in the “legacy” couple reminds me of my grandpa. After 56 years of marriage, my grandma passed away. They had commitment down pat, and therefore they had love too. As the name implies, they left quite a legacy because of that.
When Fred, the husband in the couple, broke down after Maggie’s (the wife) death, I saw my grandpa right there.
Which reminds me: I’m gonna go write that letter now.
I highly recommend Coyote County Loser. It is showing at Cinema City Theaters in Yorba Linda until Sept 10. For tickets and show times, go to Coyotecountyloser.com