Rates: * * * * *
Why Did I Watch It? I made a montage of video of great movie themes, this was in it, made me want to re-watch it very badly.
As you get older, you realise how many things you have picked up from your parents. For me, growing up in a single parent household, that means my mother. Here are the interests and personality traits that I can recognise I have acquired directly from her:
- Visual Arts: Mum loved looking at paintings. When I was little we would often go to the art gallery together, especially the main public one in Auckland. I distinctly remember lining up to see a big Monet exhibtion with her there, when I was about 8. It was very exciting, and very colourful. From mum I learned: the arts is not a thing to be enjoyed by a privelaged elite, it is for everyone. And I still go to galleries all the time, pandemic permitting.
- Reading: Mum also liked to read. Mostly pulpy, popular mainstream page turners, but even if I never liked the same sort of stuff, I got the reading bug from her. She would read to me every night before bed, and, when I was older, I would read to myself every night before bed. This is something I have always been grateful for. There have been not that many days in my life when I have not read at least a few pages of something, which has certainly enriched the whole experience.
- ‘History’s Greatest ‘: A subset of the previous point, mum was also keen on a particular type of non fiction book; ones with titles like ‘Great Mysteries of the Past’, or ‘History’s Greatest Blunders’. We had a bunch of these on the family bookshelf, and I would read them all the time. They had interesting stories, but I also liked that you could just grab one, open it anywhere, and read about some random thing. A particular fave was Time Magazine’s ‘History’s Greatest Storms’, which was full of harrowing first hand accounts of people hiding in basements as hurricanes raged overhead. I have a number of very similar books on the bookshelf next to me, right now.
- Sports: Most of my friends are not into sports. Many of them, hate it. People, when they get to know me, are often surprised that I am fan. But I was never really going to be otherwise, as my mother is a sports NUT. Her favourites, in no order, are cricket, Aussie Rules/Rugby (reflecting that we changed countries in 1986), tennis and soccer. A lot of my childhood was spent either at games, or watching games on TV, and we camped out in the loungeroom every year to watch both Wimbledon and the FA Cup Final. And I get why people don’t like sports; people DO take them too seriously, and governments DO lavish too many scarce resources on them. But they also get people out of the house, and provide exercise, and a bit of stakes free theatrical drama, in a way that is fun.
- Overreactions: My mother is the master of blowing some trivial, insignificant event into a mind bending crisis; in a way that anyone reading this, who knows me well, would probably find familiar.
- Underreactions: Conversely, when something serious actually did happen, mum could be weirdly calm. While this was a relief when it occurred, it was really just unsettling in a different way. It was almost like she deliberately found the opposite behaviour to what you were expecting, just to wrong foot you; hysterial when it was not warranted, composed when it was. My own inconsistancy has been noted.
- Character Flaws: And I mean, a grab bag of other character flaws. Mum is bad with money, not good at sustaining meaningful relationships, has a short temper, makes irrational decisions, does not plan for the future well. There are many others, and I can see most of them in myself.
- Movies: While my mother is not a movie buff, she does like movies. Her personal favourites include ‘Terms of Endearment’, ‘Educating Rita’ and the Bill Murray army comedy ‘Stripes’ (that she saw on a date). And we used to go the cinema quite a bit, catching 80s classics like ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘Gremlins’ together. Sometimes my older half brother would come with us, but he was less into movies than me, so sometimes it would just be mum and I.
It was just the two of us when we went to see this movie, ‘The Neverending Story’, in 1984. I remember knowing nothing about it beforehand; mum picked it out. But I was all in from the get go: the misfit kid who likes to read, the fantasy world he enters as he starts reading this book, The Nothing, The Empress, Artax and Atreyu.
And then, like a lot of people from my generation who saw this movie when they were little: it happened. Artax and Atreyu have journeyed into the Swamp of Sadness to find Morla, only Artax, the horse, cannot cope. There is too much sadness. He starts to sink.
Atreyu thinks he can bouy his spirits and get him moving, and as he realises he can’t, his cheery attitude slips to concern, and then outright panic. I could not believe what I was seeing. The suddenness of it, was shocking. A moment later, Artax was gone, sunk beneath the mud, while Atreyu knealt down and wept.
And at that point I turned to my mother and went: I want to go.
Mum said: what are you talking about?
I stood up.
Me: I want to leave. (yelling) NOOOW!
But Mum was a no nonsense type, and she did not want to go. She told me: she had paid for the tickets, and leaving early would be a waste. And anyway, did I not want to see what happened? While this part of the movie was sad, she felt like, everything would probably work out. She explained all this to me in a normal tone of voice, while other parents, many of them also dealing with children in a full state of horse-drowning hysteria, looked sympathetically on.
In the end, she grabbed me firmly by the arm, and pulled me back into my seat. I was upset now, and also angry: I did not like being told what to do. I sat grumpily, unhappy, determined to hate watch the rest of this stupid film and probably never speak to my mother again.
But… the charm of ‘The Neverending Story’ is irrisistable. And as Falcor arrived and new exciting things happened, I was able to put Artax’s death behind me (although I promised myself: never forget). The movie is a delight; the story is imaginative and upbeat, it has the best score, and all of it is realised through the brilliant use of old school filmic techniques like puppetry, models and matt paintings.
It could only ever be five stars for me. This was a foundational experience, not just in films, but in life.
And then what do you know: Artax comes back at the end, anyway! Has there ever been a better, more uplifting end, to any movie? I bounced out of the cinema, deleriously happy.
Happy enough to ignore mum telling me, ‘Aren’t you glad I made you stay?’
I was, but still.