By Jason Hallock
I’m going to tell you a horrible story about one of my favorite movies, and then try to make you smile. It’s how we do things in my family.
It’s hard to believe, but there was a time before the Marvel Cinematic Universe when America’s preeminent superhero family was the Parrs. They were the highlight of my 2004, when they made their debut in “The Incredibles,” written and directed by Brad Bird. Filled with humor, heart, and inventive action sequences that pushed the envelope of computer animation, “The Incredibles” was nominated for four Oscars, winning for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Sound Editing. It remains an all-time personal favorite.
It was also the last movie I watched with my mom.
My mother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2012. We knew something was wrong when she couldn’t stop telling people how much she loved them — effusively, sincerely, and endlessly. I suspected a stroke, but the cause was a golf ball-sized tumor that produced all sorts of symptoms like Wernicke’s aphasia, which manifested in about the kindest way possible with her ceaseless, positive declarations of affection for loved ones, liked ones, and even total strangers. Luckily — in so much as there can be luck at a time like that — I was able to move in with my mom and take care of her during the last few months of her life. It was a difficult time that got worse by the week as her health declined, yet I was grateful to be there for her.
Movies were always a big deal for my mom and me, especially when things weren’t going so well between us. She loved action films and needed zero encouragement for trips to the multiplex, especially during our cinematic high holy days of Christmas and summertime. Many a hatchet was buried after splitting a bucket of popcorn in front of a big silver screen. But after her diagnosis, trips to the theater were no longer an option, and it wasn’t long before she didn’t have the energy to leave the house at all.
As her world grew smaller, so did mine, and my great escape during this period was movies. After I got her settled for the night, I’d take a break in front of the TV and indulge in favorites old and new. And as we were getting toward the end, just when I needed it most, there was “The Incredibles.” I had just gotten comfortable, ready to go adventuring with the Parr clan once again, when my mom poked her head into the TV room — the first time she’d ventured out past the kitchen in days. I invited her to join me, and she eagerly accepted. I offered to watch anything she was interested in — she had a standing lunch date with Perry Mason for about 25 years — but she was happy with my selection. And it seemed perfect at the time: a family in crisis coming together in time to save each other and the world, with stunning visuals and a heroic, brassy score by Michael Giacchino, music so good it guarantees you stay to the end of the credits.
When it was all over, I turned to my mom, convinced she’d been as charmed as I was. She had a smile on her face, but it was a bewildered one. “Did you understand any of that?” she said. My heart broke a little more. It was too much for her. Yet, it also didn’t matter. She was happy to have spent the evening hanging out with me whether she understood the plot or not. It was more than enough for us just to be together. And there was a bonus waiting a few days later when she came out of her room for what turned out to be the last time and sat with me in the kitchen. I was desperate to get her to eat something, but she declined. She did, however, give me the gift of a lifetime. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she said. “I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
It made me feel like a superhero.
Jason Hallock is a story analyst for Paramount Pictures, and he wants you to call a loved one this weekend just to say hello.