John Grindrod: The Big Chill, on lost hope and lost friends


By John Grindrod - Guest Columnist



Certainly streaming options have increased our television viewing enjoyment in recent times, especially for those movies which came out so very long ago, back in a time when Hollywood seemed actually to care about making movies with meaningful plot lines and dialogue that weren’t either children’s flicks or based on Marvel comic books.

So, during our corona-forced extended home time, recently, I took a spin down a cinematic nostalgic road and watched again The Big Chill, the 1983 film that intertwines comedy and drama so effortlessly in a story about an event sadly as relevant now as it was three and a half decades ago, suicide.

In the movie, it was the suicide of a once-vital cog in a circle of collegiate friends some 15 years earlier during their University of Michigan days in Ann Arbor that reunited that circle. All of the friends of Alex, the deceased, have gathered on a long weekend in an on-set house in Beaufort, South Carolina, following the funeral to remember him and to try to come to grips with his death and, in another sense, come to grips with their own lives.

I remember that the movie spoke to me pretty powerfully when it was first released because I myself am a baby boomer, someone within five years of the ages of the characters played so wonderfully by Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Jeff Goldblum, Meg Tilly and JoBeth Williams.

While I was still some years off from losing someone I knew as a friend to suicide, actually the first of three to do the inexplicable, I certainly could relate to the characters and their sense of disillusionment over a world that seemed so very different from the cloistered campus one they’d left behind.

While my profession as a high school English teacher didn’t quite match up with the career paths taken by the characters in the movie, there was so much about the post-collegiate lessons they struggled to learn and their yearnings to do the impossible, which is to have a do-over of their campus days and revitalize what they once meant to one another, that resonated.

And, of course, for one my age, the soundtrack of the movie is as good as it gets, featuring some songs to which I still know all the words and often ask my roomie Alexa to play while I’m putting my preparatory efforts into a weekend meal to be served to my Lady Jane.

From the ‘Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which we all tend to realize on a deeper and deeper level with each step we take down life’s path, to The Young Rascals’ “Good Lovin’” and on to Smokey’s “The Tracks of My Tears” and “I Second that Emotion,” I took my own journey back in time as I watched that movie.

In addition to the characters trying, somehow, to deal with the loss of Alex, it was also evident in the film that, despite the commitment they once had to their collegiate friendships and the resolve they had to stay in touch, it a took a suicide of one of their own to reunite.

The movie’s final scene was a last conversation on a Sunday morning by the group at breakfast before they must return to their lives, perhaps never to gather again. I remember it was an ending movie reviewers roundly criticized for its lack of resolution, a criticism I thought to be unfair because I felt one of the movie’s most cogent points was that, in so many ways, one of life’s most notable characteristics is its irresolution.

As the final credits rolled by on my Roku stream while I sang every word of the final song of the soundtrack, “Joy to the World,” by Three Dog Night, alone in my house, I remembered those times in Oxford, Ohio, home to my Mother Miami, when I sang those same words with my pals when the song was new at our favorite watering hole, The Purity.

And, like the characters in the movie who vowed they would always stay in touch and then never did, despite my pals’ and my own vows to do the same, to gather on some kind of regular basis to see how, along the way, things were turning out, the truth of the matter is we never did. And, there’s a certain sadness to that.

As has been said, great cinema doesn’t always have to make you feel good, but it should make you feel. And, certainly I did feel that night as I watched that movie as well as think about that one-time congenial collegiate cocoon.

And, as for my old friends, whose faces I can only envision as they were when we were all young, I sat there thinking about them and about how all of their “its” turned out.

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By John Grindrod

Guest Columnist

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at grinder@wcoil.com.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at grinder@wcoil.com.

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