I went online today to look up road movies, specifically road movies about families. I came up with two I have seen and enjoyed, “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and “Little Miss Sunshine.” The fact remained it was two.
I started to wonder at the dearth of family road movies. The situation is really this; families in spite of taking it on the chin in post-modern society, still represent for us the stability of home. Friends and lovers do not present this. Their stories represent not the stability of home, but rather something very different, though not really.
If families were “not on the road” because of their stability then friends and lovers must be there because of their instability. That would be a good premise to test and I started looking for examples, but in many cases, it simply was not to be found. Instead what was there was not so much instability as the quest for stability. With few exceptions, friends and lovers take to the road not because they want to be out in the world as to find a home. They always leave seeking a sense of adventure, but are really striving to find in the undiscovered country what is already possessed by the family. They leave because they want to go to a home.
One doesn’t need to watch something as long as a road movie to get the premise. You can sum up half of all road movies (especially the couple ones) with two music videos. First there is “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. This is a quick tale of a band of friends and two friends in particular making sense of driving through Marfa Texas. Combined with the song’s lyrics, it has all the classic formula in place ….young love, wide open spaces, breakdowns, and even the threat of death. The other and more poignant video is Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You.” Here the landscape of Joshua Tree National Park is used to show that being “out there” is as much about discovering who or what is closest to you as it is about running away to the landscape that informs this thing.
Watch these two videos and you can carry on a pretty intelligent conversation about the themes of many a road movie, as long as those conversations don’t involve a plot. In both cases there is a longing for stability and to know home, but you need both for your conversation. Edward Sharp’s example is the more uplifting and one can imagine that if you see the story through it ends with a home in the most literal of ways. Mazzy Star’s is an example of one that ends with the discovery of self that will one day go to a repressed place. Both can be seen as an example of finding your way home, though one is about finding your way there so that you can return to life with your friend(s) in tow and let that become the “forever” reality. It involves at least a little courage and no small amount of silliness. The other is a morality tale about the danger of not seeing your travel home all the way through leaving a friend and what might have been forever in the desert, while you walk away harder and smarter, but not at all very courageous. Get these two storylines down and you get down the road movie, at least the couple ones.
I will return to trying to find road movies about families. Even if I can’t, I will always have “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” After all, even on my voyage of discovery and sense of adventure road trips, I have been most like Clark Griswold. And if I can’t find one, there may be a music video out there to help me approximate the thing.