Through some odd twist of circumstances, Ford, my oldest son, and I were the only ones home for the night. This almost never happens, and now that Ford is almost 15, I decided we should watch a movie – a PG-13 movie – that we normally could not when Ford’s younger brothers are around.
“How about ‘Saving Private Ryan’?” I said.
“Probably too intense,” Ford said.
“Are you crazy, Mom? I won’t sleep for weeks.”
“Ok, then,” I said. “Let’s watch ‘The Sixth Sense.’ There’s a good, inspirational movie if I ever saw one.”
Not coincidentally: I have a terrible memory for movie and book plots.
By the end of the first scene, my teenage son was sitting closer to me than he has since that time he and I got the short end of the stick fitting seven people into a car made to comfortably fit seven people, so long as all seven people are the size of a 5-year-old. If you’ve seen “The Sixth Sense,” you know why he was so scared.
I saw “The Sixth Sense” when it first came out in 1999, so it had been a while. The only thing I remembered was the surprise twist at the end. Which is why I thought it was funny when Ford felt less afraid when the child psychologist, played by Bruce Willis, was on screen.
“Oh, good,” Ford would say. “The doctor guy is in this scene, so that means no ghosts or dead people.”
When the movie was over, Ford was frozen in his seat—until I got up to get laundry in the basement. Then he was following close at my heels. I couldn’t remember the last time Ford helped me with laundry. He was like a backpack as he followed me around the house to put away clothes. “Where are we going now, Mom? This room? OK, let’s turn on a light first. In fact, can we turn on every light in the house?”
He had to sleep on my bedroom floor that night. And for a few days after, any time someone began a sentence with “I see [rain clouds, a sail boat, a fuzzy kitten sitting in a teacup],” his face would turn white.
A week later, Dustin and I were home alone with just Owen, almost 13, and Ford.
“Let’s watch a movie we can’t usually watch when your little brother is home,” I said.
“Oh no,” Ford said. “I’m not falling for that ‘inspiration movie’ stuff again.”
But Owen wanted to be brave, too, and see a PG-13 movie.
“Mom’s not picking it, then,” Ford said.
So Dustin chose “The Village.”
Not coincidentally: Dustin has a fantastic memory for movie and book plots.
Before the opening credits were finished, our oldest sons stopped just short of sitting in our laps. However, they quickly tied their comfort and lower heart rates to scenes that involved Lucius Hunt, played by Joaquin Phoenix. Owen reasoned: “He’s obviously the hero of the movie, so nothing bad is going to happen to him.”
And then, well, something really bad happens to Lucius.
Owen hid his face in his hands. “This goes against everything,” he said. “There is no one to save the day.”
I would blame “Star Wars” for this, but for some reason, the kids don’t think Darth Vader nor Luke’s big reveal is a big deal. Maybe that’s because Vader has been spoofed to the point of being almost comical.
However, if you’ve seen the end of “The Village,” you know that Owen didn’t even know the half of it when it comes to surprise endings. Still, he was searching for the comforting character, the one who would make everything OK.
I thought back to the night Ford and I watched “The Sixth Sense,” and how Ford falsely believed Bruce Willis’ character represented what’s “normal.” I wondered if this type of thinking – “I need someone to save the day” – is instinctual to children, perhaps to keep them close to their parents. I mean, how many times has Lindell said he will only kayak with me, even though I’m not entirely sure I can always keep the kayak from tipping?
Or have we instilled this type of thinking in children through stories of Superman and Batman?
Either way, the PG-13 rating might be, by default, saving children from one of life’s most unpleasant lessons: things aren’t always what they seem. And as our oldest boys slept on our floor for several nights, I realized the PG-13 rating might also be saving parents from an unexpected and more terrible fate: never again successfully sending your children alone to the basement to get paper towels or laundry or to feed the dog.
Follow Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley at facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.