I recently rewatched the Robert Downey, Jr./Zach Galifianakis comedy romp “Due Date”, a movie I rather enjoyed when originally seeing it in theaters back in 2010. At the time, I remember thinking that Galifianakis’ character Ethan Tremble was a not-so-loveable loser and that Downey’s character Peter Highman, while perhaps a bit heavy handed, was pragmatic and rationale. Both were lampooned at times for being towards extreme ends of a spectrum, but I had no doubt that Ethan had much more work to do on himself than Peter. (If you haven’t seen the film, click here for the Wikipedia synopsis.)
However this time? Ugh… this time I was disgusted with Peter. And largely because of how much I realized he reminded me of myself. Or, more precisely, a side of myself I’m working on moving away from. Peter hails from a world where there is a right way to do most things. Not necessarily a moral way, but a conventional way. A way by which he largely abides, presumably contributing to his success in life. Ethan… well, Ethan has his own way. He perms his hair, dresses ridiculously, travels with is little dog, puts himself to sleep with 35+ minute masturbation settings regardless of whom else is in the vicinity, carries his dead father’s ashes in a coffee can… basically, he does almost everything unconventionally. Which, of course, Peter interprets as him doing them wrong. And Peter’s biggest fault is not that he might be too hidebound by conventions, but that he feels compelled to tell Ethan of all the things he is doing wrong, exactly how he is doing them wrong, and what his wrongness says about his self-worth. Even when Peter is otherwise unaffected by Tremble’s unconventional ways beyond having to bear witness to them, he just can’t let them slide. He feels the need to mock, criticize, and deride Ethan, often mercilessly.
When I first watched this movie, back in 2010, a good 9 months before my wedding, I wasn’t too bothered my Peter. Yes, he could be a bit heavy handed… but Ethan wasn’t just a bit out there… he was WAY out there and quite self-assured in his oddness. He NEEDED to be set straight, told of all the things he was doing wrong, and shown how to do them right. And the reason I wasn’t so bothered by Peter was because I was Peter. I had no qualms letting Zazzy know when she loaded the dishwasher incorrectly or folded my shirts the wrong way. I was not as meanspirited as Peter, but I still struggled to even bear witness to such wrongness. Now, don’t get me wrong… some of these things were not without consequence. I can get approximately 25% more dishes into the dishwasher by playing an elaborate game of plate-Tetris (Platetris?). And my shirts fit better in the drawers when I fold them.
Now? Well, I’m not perfect. Anyone who interacts with me in the comments knows I am not shy about telling people why they are wrong and sticking around until they’ve accepted it. But I have made some progress. Who cares if we have to run one extra load of dishes a week because Zazzy loaded it her way? Is that really worse than doing it twice or her feeling incompetent? This is the sort of thinking I am trying to make my norm, picking the spots where I offer constructive criticism, and better embodying the live-and-let-live philosophy I genuinely do believe in, but which I long sheltered from certain aspects of my personal life.
But my encore viewing of “Due Date” was a clear reminder of not only how far I’ve gone, but why it is so important that I continue to work at this. It exposed an unsavory part of my personality and, in doing so, provided me greater opportunity to reflect and repair it.
Has this ever happened to you? Has a second viewing of a film or reading of a book every sat much differently because of how you changed in the interim? Has a work of art ever hit too close to home, such that experiencing it was excruciating albeit impossible to pull yourself away? Who is the Peter Highland in your life?