When I was 16, I watched a movie called Hackers that starred a young Angelina Jolie and her first husband, Jonny Lee Miller, as rogue computer geniuses who must save the world from a deadly virus threatening to take over cyberspace. While not a rogue computer genius myself, something about the spirit of the movie resonated with me. It managed to capture the energy of what it was like to be an angsty teenager in the mid-90s as we were just starting to imagine how this strange thing called the World Wide Web would affect our lives. Already aware of my own fleeting youth, I remember thinking at the time, I hope there never comes a day when I don't get this movie.
I thought of Hackers while watching Away We Go because, once again, a movie seemed to have my number in a way related very much to my age at a particular time in history. Away We Go tells the story of Burt (The Office's John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph, formerly of SNL), an unmarried couple in their early 30s for whom an unexpected pregnancy forces the issue of where they should make a home. Their search captures the zeitgeist of this moment for so many young people made rootless by common features of modern life—nomadic living, fractured families, endless options for almost every aspect of life—who feel they are starting from scratch as they attempt to root their adult lives. Still aware of my own fleeting youth, I thought, I get this movie.
When we meet Burt and Verona, they are living in a ramshackle house that has, as anyone who has seen the trailer will know, a cardboard window. One assumes this location was chosen for the cheap rent, though the need for the cheap rent becomes less clear as the movie bumps on and it appears both people have jobs that could afford them, if not luxury, glass window panes. Verona is an illustrator and Burt sells insurance, and together they make one of the more winsome couples in recent movie history. Krasinski's Burt is optimistic and warm-hearted without being spineless. And Rudolph's Verona is reserved and rarely smiles, but without being cold. They live together with a grace—easing one another's weaknesses, highlighting one another's strengths—that makes you optimistic on their behalf.
Burt and Verona moved to the dilapidated house to be close to his parents (hers are dead) and are counting on them to help out once their baby comes. But when the parents announce they're moving to Europe a month before the baby is born, they become, as Verona puts it, untethered. "We can go anywhere," she says, pointing out to Burt that they both have jobs that can travel with them. And so, away they go, traveling around North America visiting friends and family—shopping, in a sense, for community.
Written by David Eggers and Vendela Vida, two scribes with hipster credit in spades, Away We Go maintains a sort of ironic distance from everyone other than Burt and Verona. The cast of characters they meet along the way includes notably wacky performances from Allison Janney and Maggie Gyllenhaal as women you do not want to live near if at all possible. Check Phoenix and Madison, Wisconsin, off the list. And just when it looks like they might have found some kindred spirits in Canada, a family emergency spirits them away to Florida.
In each place, Burt and Verona look at a way of being a family and understandably reject much of what they see. One of the things they also reject is marriage. Well, Burt would like to be married, but Verona resists. And while this fact alone might cause some to dismiss their relationship as fundamentally flawed, I think anyone can find reason to admire this fledgling family. Rather than rejecting marriage, it seems to me that Burt and Verona are actually rejecting divorce. They are not afraid of making promises, as evidenced in one deeply romantic scene. Instead, they're looking for meaningful ways to commit their lives to one another and to others. Surely Christians can be sympathetic to this goal.
As with all movies that seek to capture a cultural moment, music is important. And much of this lovely Nick Drake-like score is provided by tracks from singer/songwriter Alexi Murdoch's debut album Time Without Consequence. This lyric from Orange Sky, a song on that album, might be a kind of motto for Burt and Verona: "In your love, my salvation lies." It's a sentiment that both reveals the profound tenderness that exists between these two, and suggests their vulnerability as even the most earnest human love is a fragile thing compared to the love that does actually save.
I watched Hackers again a few years ago and had to confess to myself that my fear had come true. Apparently, in 1995 we thought the Internet looked much like a large Pac Man game. But worse than that, I just didn't get the movie anymore. It was hard to indentify with any of the characters or their maudlin concerns. My 16-year-old self was very disappointed with me.
And I wonder if, in another ten years, the concerns that animate Away with Me will feel somewhat foreign as well. Surely community is a timeless concern for many people, especially Christians. But it's hard to ignore that there is something incredibly privileged about having the time and resources to search for community in the fashion of Burt and Verona. And hovering off on stage right is the issue of living up to one's potential. It all seems dangerously close to being precious and self-absorbed in that way of middle class hipsters who are deathly afraid of leading average lives.
At some point, you have to stop shopping for a life and start living. The two aren't mutually exclusive, but I wonder if the quirky 30somethings trying to answer these basic questions will bore me ten years down the line. Hopefully I will have moved on to other things. And yet, I can't deny that right now, Away We Go feels true. And so, cagily, I hope there never comes a day when I don't get this movie.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- Have you ever felt (or do you now feel) untethered? How did you cope with this feeling? Did you change anything about your life as a result?
- Why do you think community is important? Is it more important for Christians than for others? Would you move—or not move—for the sake of community? Why or why not?
- Discuss the places Burt and Verona consider in their search for a home. Which place would you have picked? Why?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Away We Go is rated R for language and some sexual content. It features swearing and frank, though not explicit, sex and discussions of sex. Burt and Verona are engaged in oral sex in the movie's opening scene.
Photos © Focus Films
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