Film Nerd 2.0: Santa, ‘Lawrence Of Arabia,’ and the struggle with what’s really real

We didn't even get to the car until about midnight, and Allen was pretty much wiped out by that point. I put him in his seat, and he was asleep before I could make it into the driver's seat.

Toshi, though, was wide awake as we drove out of Hollywood, out the 101, all the way to Northridge. Even with no one else on the road, that's a solid forty-five minutes. Toshi was quiet, thinking, as I started the car.

“That's your favorite movie?”


“Out of all the movies, that's the one you like the most?”


Long pause again as he thought it over. “It's good. It's good.” Another long pause. “I mean, it's not my favorite. But that's good for you.”

I would not be surprised if “Lawrence Of Arabia” confounded either of the boys. It's not a simple movie. But it is a big beautiful movie, and it is full of remarkable things that you don't need to understand Arabic politics to enjoy. I have a rule about “Lawrence,” since it is indeed my favorite film of all time (as discussed in this piece here on HitFix), which is that I try to see it every time it plays theatrically, and I try to take someone with me each time who has not seen it before. There's a 70MM print that goes back and forth between the Aero and the Egyptian that I've seen many times at this point.

This year, the screening fell during Christmas week, and I arranged to make sure I had Toshi and Allen with me for the 27th. It's been emotionally difficult to get used to the idea of not being with them for every single second of the holiday season, and this year in particular, Toshi was challenging the idea of Christmas in some pretty basic ways. I'll say this for him… at least he had the wherewithal to take me aside before telling me that he was pretty sure Santa Claus is not real. “Roman told me that it's just your parents and that he's sure.” I told him that Santa Claus only brings presents to people who believe in him, and that I would really appreciate it if he not share Roman's totally insane theory with his little brother any time soon. He considered this, and told me, “Well, I think maybe Roman's wrong, though, so I think I won't say that to Allen.”

Smart kid.

When Christmas morning rolled around, they weren't with me. I didn't get to pick them up until about 2:00 in the afternoon. On the drive over to my place, they tried to be patient, but that lasted about four minutes, and it was Allen who finally asked, “Did Santa come to your house?”

I played it as straight-faced as I could. “It's weird… I don't know. I left the milk and cookies out on the table in the living room, right by all the presents that I had set out for you guys. This morning, the milk and cookies were gone, but there was nothing else different. I didn't see any presents for you, and I looked around the entire living room.”

They worked to look like they didn't mind, and when we got to my apartment, they were happy to dig into the presents I'd wrapped for them. I told them they should go put their stuff in their bedroom first, though, and I waited for them to open the bedroom door. When I heard the “OH MY GOD!” screams start, I walked down the hall to where they had found the set-up that “Santa” had left in their bedroom for them. I've spent much of this year telling them how much I resent and dislike the basic idea of Disney Infinity, and refusing to even entertain the notion of the game. For those of you who are not parents to Disney crackheads, allow me to explain. The game is for the XBox or the Wii or the Playstation, and it comes with a pad that you plug into the console. On the pad are two spots, and you can set any Disney Infinity figure on that pad, and the game will drop them into a common playground, called the Toy Box. As a result, you can spend an afternoon as Hulk and Tinkerbell or Captain Jack Sparrow and Donald Duck or Rocket Raccoon and Stitch. There are also themed worlds that you can play as certain characters, like giant open world variations on the basic formula of the LEGO games. The fiendish thing about this is the idea that Disney will just keep releasing figures, and I'm supposed to just keep buying them. So far, Disney and Marvel are both well-represented, and I can assume that will expand to include Star Wars sometime this year as well. The boys had long since absorbed that I was not interested in getting started on the habit, so when they stepped into their bedroom, they discovered that Santa had made a liar of me. There was a sprawling assortment of figures and playlets waiting for them, with other smaller gifts tucked in around those things. For example, in honor of their recent Film Nerd 2.0 “Terminator” screening, Toshi got a “Terminator” action figure, and Allen got a “Kyle Reese.”

But the Disney Infinity thing was a genuine surprise to them, and Toshi told me later in the day that he was pretty sure Santa was really real and not just pretend real because Santa did something that I said I wasn't going to do. I could see that it was really eating at him, because he had bought into what Roman told him. For me, the kick of it was seeing that I was able to actually surprise them. Right now, those surprises are part of what I'm using to distract them from the decidedly weird reconfiguration of our holidays, and it's been good. That's why when Saturday rolled around, I didn't tell the boys exactly what we were doing. I met their godfather out at the house, and it was decided that Allen, who had been feeling under the weather, was well enough to go out to do whatever it was that we had planned. As a result, I packed the boys into my car, their godfather Craig followed us over to my apartment, and we spent the first part of the afternoon hanging out there. We went to Amoeba to go movie-hunting, then went out to dinner, and the entire time, the boys kept trying to figure out what it was that we were going to do to wrap up the evening.

When we parked behind the Egyptian, they still didn't know. We walked inside, and since I had my tickets on the phone so they could just be scanned electronically, there was nothing for the boys to peek at. I laughed because they walked right by a poster for the film we were seeing and didn't spot it, and by the time we were seated in the balcony, they were just plain annoyed with me for playing it so close to the vest. Craig seemed to be as amused as I was, and so when the introduction for the film finally began and they realized what they were seeing, there was some immediate excitement. The thing is, I've never really told them anything about the movie beyond the title and that I love it, so they had no idea what to expect.

Toshi sat at the far end of the group from me, next to his godfather, who had Allen sitting on his other side, between the two of us. As a result, I couldn't really hear Toshi's reactions to the movie until we reached the intermission, at which point Toshi had a ton of questions for me. Allen was the same way. They were exhilarated by it, but Allen in particular was also somewhat worn out by the first half. During the second half, after the intermission, Allen finally tapped out and ended up sleeping draped across me, waking up for battle sequences, then heading back to sleep again.

Driving home, though, Toshi asked me about the real Lawrence and about what it was that I find so compelling about the story. The idea that there was a real T.E. Lawrence was something that Toshi found particularly interesting, and he asked questions about the other characters, about the history of the region, about England and the age of Empire-building. As he's starting to read more on his own, he's coming back to me with better and better questions, and he's got a pretty intense sense of curiosity about everything these days.

What stuck with both of them was the idea that the film had an overture, an intermission, and then an Entracte coming back for the second half. Just the idea of the overture still seems to blow their minds. Toshi's asked me if he's allowed to start watching “Lawrence” on Blu-ray now that he's seen it once, but I've told him that he should hold off and see it with me again theatrically if he wants another viewing. The fact that he's willing to go back for round two is amazing to me, but there are things about the film that seem to be haunting him. He was particularly upset by the “No prisoners!” sequence and the implications of what that says about heroes in general, and I've noticed that any film where a “hero” is presented as morally conflicted is a film that he has no choice but to revisit. The idea that you can be less than morally pure and still be considered the main character or the hero is something that I can see him grapple with.

A full week after the screening, what Allen remembered was the day as a whole. Spending time with Craig, going out to dinner and Amoeba, and then being together in the theater… that's what he took away from it. He remembers images from “Lawrence,” but he couldn't tell you what it's about, and that's fine.

Toshi, though, has brought it up a few times, and one of the moments that seemed to blow his mind was when I showed him a copy of “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” that was given to me by another friend who I took to see the film for the first time a few years ago. It seems like it was the book that finally convinced him that Lawrence was really real, which he considered important. After all, that's been a big part of his thinking lately. He's been questioning the reality of things like Santa Claus, God, and dinosaurs, so it seems perfectly natural to also question whether anything he sees in any movie is “real” or not.

And for the record, his opinion now after what i pulled with the Disney Infinity stuff, is that Santa Claus, like dinosaurs and Lawrence of Arabia, is really real. I feel like one more year of magic is the real gift I gave him for Christmas, and I'm so glad that their first exposure to my favorite film was met with at least a grudging approval. “It's not my favorite, but that's good for you.” Honestly, I couldn't ask for more.

We'll have another Film Nerd 2.0 for you before I leave for Sundance, and then we've got a big year planned. There are more epics on the agenda, lots of classics from different genres, and some films that may be truly challenging. Hope you share it with us.