I just saw the best movie I have seen all year. I saw the trailer earlier in the year. I love Tom Hanks in everything I’ve ever seen him in. I have read a few biographies about the life of Mister Rogers and watched last year’s critically acclaimed documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
This movie was better than all of them.
Starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, and Matthew Rhys as a journalist for the magazine Esquire, Lloyd Vogel, the movie is about the disarming and caring humanity of Mister Rogers. The film was directed by Marielle Heller, and also stars Chris Cooper, and Susan Kelechi Watson.
Vogel is a hardened journalist who is always looking for the story beneath the story. He is guided by a desire to uncover the truth. When he first meets Mister Rogers, he believes what he is seeing is an act, a facade. Surely, nobody could really care as much as Mister Rogers. He refers to him as a “saint” at one point in the film. Joanne Rogers, Fred’s wife, reproves him saying:
“And if you paint him as a saint, if you say that, then somehow his way of life and the work that he does is unattainable. He worked very hard at it. It was a practice for him.” -Joanne Rogers
This quote was central to the film. Mister Rogers had struggles like everyone else. He worked at resolving anger and worked at letting it out in ways that were under control. It was a discipline for him, much like “emotional” exercise.
Vogel is struggling with his past, his distant father who suddenly reappears in his life, upsetting feelings that had been locked away deep inside. He is struggling with being a first-time parent to a son. In his talks and interviews with Mister Rogers, Vogel finds that much of the time he isn’t doing the interview, but he himself is being interviewed. Mister Rogers deeply cares about him and cares about him finding peace and resolving the pain in his own life.
The film ultimately is a story of love and caring for others. It is a story about expressing your feelings. It is a story about sharing your fears and your disappointments and not bottling up everything until you explode.
The film was a slow burn. It was a tearjerker that confronts you internally with your own past and struggles. It is as much a depiction of how to care for your emotional well-being as it is an internal look into the darkest corners of your heart and your past to deal with things that have long been buried and hidden away. Once we deal with our own feelings, we can then see others in a new way. We can see those around us, even those who have hurt us in the past with a lens of empathy. Forgiveness and grace are common themes throughout the film.
“Do you know what forgiveness means? It’s a decision we make to release a person from the feelings of anger we have against them.” -Fred Rogers
The cinematography in the film is reminiscent of the pace of the television show. In contrast to every other children’s program, like Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was slow. It didn’t make fast cuts. It was almost boring at times. Yet, children’s attention was captured. Fred looked at a single child through the camera, right in the eyes. They knew when they watched that he was looking at them. And that he truly cared about them.
The most poignant scene from the film was during a taping of the show. Mister Rogers is trying to put a tent together by himself. He struggles with it. He puts a lot of effort in setting it up. He cannot do it. He makes a joke like, “Maybe one adult can’t put up a tent by himself.”
The scene cuts. His assistants ask him if he wants someone to set up the tent for him. He tells them ‘no.’ He says he wants to use the scene as-is. It was a humorous struggle. When asked about why he doesn’t want the tent set up and why he doesn’t want to redo the scene, his reply is powerful:
“Children need to know that even when adults make plans, sometimes they don’t turn out as they hoped.” -Fred Rogers
As a parent of three, with many of my plans for my future already falling apart, this quote helped me in a powerful way to grieve again, to let go of those plans, to give myself grace for my own failures, and to move forward.
I would be surprised if this film wasn’t nominated for Best Picture in this year’s upcoming Academy Awards. I believe Tom Hanks should be nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Susan Kelechi Watson for Best Supporting Actress and Marielle Heller for Best Director. All of them were fabulous!
Go see this film! It was so good!!
If you’re still on the fence, check out the trailer below:
Bonus: If you’ve made it this far, check out the original article published in Esquire, written by Tom Junod (Lloyd Vogel), the cover story of the November 1998 issue.