Monday, September 16, 2002

A Walk To Remember

In the 18th and 19th centuries, a common literary genre was the sentimental novel. Some of its defining characteristics were: good guys; bad guys; a moral lesson (sometimes not very subtlely pointed out); and a surplus of emotions, both happy and sad. While a sentimental novel didn't always end "and they lived happily ever after," there was at least some inspirational result--a reminder that in the struggle between good and evil, good would win.

The proponents of realism in literature eventually won the day; good doesn't always win in the real world, there are tragedies that taken place and sometimes we don't quite understand why. The next time you want to thank someone for Hollywood's current focus on cannibalism and serial killers, thank the late Victorian realists for their efforts to make literature more real.

My wife and I rented A Walk to Remember last night, partly because of the reviews we've seen, and partly because my daughter, who is 18, and presumably is more in touch with the real world of kids this age, recommended it. A Walk to Remember is the sentimental novel for our age. There are good people--but not perfect. The preacher's daughter, played by Mandy Moore, is almost unnaturally good, but we also see her respond to a nasty insult with a witty one. We see her hide the unpleasant truth about her future in the interests of getting a boyfriend. We see her father, who seems at first to be too critical and judgmental of the ne'er-do-well who wants to take her out, soften.

The bad crowd are, unfortunately, typical of a much of a generation now (and most of it in Sonoma County). They are in high school, so they get drunk a lot, engage in fairly promiscuous sex, and pull a stunt that nearly kills a young man that wants to be part of their "in crowd." Their language is fairly raw, but nowhere near as horrifying as I am used to hearing from kids much younger in California. Yet like a flower pushing up through a cracked sidewalk in a busy city, there are occasional streaks of compassion and decency. We also get some clues as to why these kids are so destructive of themselves and others; divorce has produced emotionally injured children who find solace in the intoxication of alcohol and sex, and power in injuring others.

A Walk to Remember is how the preacher's daughter, who is neither fashionable nor spectacularly pretty, by the example of her life, changes first one young man, and then others around her. Along the way, the battle between faith and disbelief shows up in verbal sparring. There's never more than a few lines of such discussion; it's a subtle script, with occasional flashes of wit and charm appropriate to people of this age. Yet I don't think that many people will watch this film and not be moved by the message it is teaching us.

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