So far, the Film Nerd 2.0 column has dealt primarily with older titles. I can’t really speak to how other people share films with their kids, but this column has been driven so far by my desire to help my kids navigate the ocean of media choices available to them.
For the most part, I believe my kids should have a media diet made up of older titles, for the simple inarguable reason that there are far more good films that already exist than you’ll find in any multiplex on a given weekend. Yes, there are good films being made all the time, but if you’re going to give your kids a healthy diet of film, you have to be willing to dig deep. You have to do more than just slavishly march to the theater and show them whatever blockbuster Hollywood tells you is “for the family” at this particular moment. Over the course of this column so far, we’ve dealt with films from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and even ’90s. And by keeping their intake so diverse, I’ve seen that my kids aren’t just sensation junkies, demanding only big and loud and now.
Having said that, this column came to life one afternoon in a theater for a new release, when I took Toshi to the theater to see the JJ Abrams “Star Trek” reboot. The movie electrified him. It’s hard to fully explain the reaction he had if you weren’t there to see it, to see his body language. He stood for almost the entire running time, every muscle in his body clenched, and if I tried to touch him at all, he would brush me off, so engrossed in the film that he wanted no other stimulus, nothing to break that connection he was feeling. He was lost in the movie, and that ability to get lost, to get completely absorbed by what you’re seeing, that feeling when something goes from being passive entertainment to something immersive, an experience remembered instead of something just watched… well, that’s the hit that I’ve been chasing my whole life, since the first moment I got bit by that exact same bug.
So this week, let’s talk about another new release. Last Saturday night, I went to the Paramount lot with Toshi, Allen, and Allen’s godfather Craig, a good friend of mine. We tried to keep it a secret from the boys as to why we were going out, but they’ve been so pumped up, so hyped for this film for the last month or so, that I think they had their suspicions. And sure enough, when we got onto the lot, Toshi started asking us questions about “Thor” right away. I’ve been hesitant to take them to see the other Marvel movies in the theater so far because of the level of intensity in the films, but there is something about the tone of “Thor” that feels like a conscious choice, a desire to open the films up to a younger audience. This felt like an appropriate place to jump in for the boys, and I was curious to see how they reacted to this big bright cosmic adventure.
Short version: they lost their minds.
It’s interesting to me how Allen, who just turned three in March, has a much more hearty appetite for the freaky and the scary and dark than his older brother. Toshi will be six in July, and he seems to be very directly affected by things in films when they push him outside his comfort zone at all. He is fascinated by monsters, but there’s a huge difference between seeing a still image and seeing something move, and while he can spend hours looking at books about the Universal monsters, seeing Frankenstein or The Wolf Man in motion is still very upsetting for him.
Toshi covers his eyes frequently in films, something I recognize in myself when I was a kid. I probably rode the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World a dozen times before I did it with my eyes open, and I learned something in the process: when you close your eyes, whatever you’re afraid of seems a thousand times worse than it would if you just watched it. Eventually, I shifted from hiding my eyes to seeking out crazy things, almost like I was daring myself to respond to what I saw. Toshi has yet to figure this one out, but Allen seems to have just been born with it innately. If he’s freaked out by something, he leans in closer for a better look.
With “Thor,” both boys seemed deeply engaged and entertained, while there were a few places where Toshi felt overwhelmed and covered his eyes. In particular, there’s an early sequence where Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Warriors Three (Josh Dallas, Ray Stevenson, and Tadanobu Asano) join Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) on Jotenheim, the planet of the Frost Giants, and they confront the entire race of these massive, powerful things that can use ice as a weapon. And Toshi sat closer to me, covering his eyes with his hands but keeping them tented so he could still see everything. Allen, on the other hand, clenched his little Burger King “Thor” figure tightly in one hand during the entire sequence, rocking and jumping in response to what happened onscreen.
The film is far more than just action sequences, and I was curious to see if the boys would hang with the character stuff. They did, too. In fact, that’s what led to our best conversation of the night, as we were on the way home after dropping off Craig. We started talking about the meaning of the movie, and Toshi really needed to work through why Odin (Anthony Hopkins) would take all of Thor’s power from him and throw him out of Asgard. It upset him emotionally, and I explained to him that Odin wanted Thor to be a good person, and when he realized that Thor was selfish and had no self-control, he was disappointed. He cast him out of Asgard to force him to learn the lesson of humility. Only once Thor learned to help other people and control himself could he return to Asgard and be Thor again. Toshi asked a few follow-up questions, but I could tell he was really struck by this idea.
Finally, he announced quite firmly that he was going to be like Thor. “I want to be a good person, too, Daddy. I want to help people like Thor. I don’t want to be bad, because I don’t like to get vanished and be lonely.”
“How about you, Allen? Do you want to be a good person like Thor?”
“I’M LOKI!” Allen proudly announced. And no matter how hard I tried to dissuade him on the way home, he kept telling me that he’s going to be Loki when he grows up. I’m pretty sure it’s the horns on the costume.
The funny part is that I’ve actually seen a shift in Toshi. He has started picking up the playroom every night before bed without us having to ask. He did his homework yesterday before we even realized he had homework. And he’s trying his best to be kind to his little brother, something which eludes him at least once every day. So as much as he took away all the flying and the fighting, there is a genuine lesson that sunk in here, and the particular definition of “hero” that Toshi took away from Thor might be the most impressive thing about the film.
Even if his little brother is still determined to be Loki.
“Thor” opens everywhere this Friday.
Want to read earlier installments in the series?