Being more Del

Written on 7 May, 2020

One of my favourite films is Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I’ve mentioned this to Clare several times and insisted we watch it at some point.

Finally, this last weekend, we sat down and enjoyed the film together.

Thankfully she enjoyed it. So much so she trusts me to introduce her to more of my favourite films which I think she’ll also like (next up is Groundhog Day).

The next few days after watching, I got thinking about Planes, Trains and Automobiles. About how my understanding of it had chanced since I first watched at age 15.

It’s the characters that stand out for me. Neal starts the film as arrogant, cynical and mostly uncaring (though he does manage to remain polite even when annoyed with people). Over the film he mellows and learns the value of being nice to other humans.

Del can be annoying, but he is kind and a positive thinker. It is his friendliness gets them into hotels and gains them transportation, though contact with those he has befriended in the past.

Neal gets home because Del knows the importance of being with family and because he’s positive enough to find solutions. Without Del, Neal would a) never get out of the problems he faced and b) possibly never be in some of those situations anyway.

As they travel together, it is Del’s influence that changes Neal’s outlook. To the point where even when he doesn’t like Del he cares enough on a human level not to leave him out in the cold (literally).

By the end, Neal realises he has learned something along the way, and is a different person. Which leads directly to the conclusion. No spoilers here, but there’s a bitter-sweet ending to the film which raises it above a screwball comedy and into something with depth, that stays with you.

At 15, watching the film for the first time, I didn’t get the emotional impact of the ending. I was too young. My family were always there, so the thought of not spending time with them didn’t enter my head. If anything, like most teens, I welcomed respite from the family.

Watching it now the ending resonated. I understand more of the messages the film was portraying.

It also made me think about how I’d changed since that first viewings. At 15 I was more like Neal. Cynical and too stressed to deal with adversity in a productive way.

Over the years I’ve become more like Del. Able to look for the positives in a situation and use that to find a solution, or take solace from the silver lining in the black clouds.

I like to think that, like Neal, I’ve learned from the journey. Theirs was a trek across the USA. Mine was a journey through life. One that hasn’t ended yet and still has more to teach me.