Just about every year, we collectively watch the movie PLANES TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES. Steve Martin and John Candy star in a raucous and zany film about two men just trying to get home for Thanksgiving.
As we travel with them on their silly hijinks, we are introduced to strange and bizarre characters, we peer through the veil of some distinctly grim and entirely dirty hotels. And, in the end, Steve Martin’s character Neal Page is able to get home to his family just in time to enjoy a beautifully prepared dinner, and a perfectly groomed, family running down the stairs to greet him.
But what about John Candy’s role, Del Griffith.
That situation is a bit different.
Throughout the movie, Del Griffith provides the comic relief necessary to make this a timeless hit comedy. What is deeper and darker, more sinister and grim, is the person we really meet in Del by the end.
You are left looking at a man at his darkest hour. Someone who is alone around Thanksgiving and Christmas season.
Someone who has lost his wife and is forced to spend the holidays only with himself, just himself.
No one else, and no family.
This is a tale all too familiar to many people around this time of year. There’s something very magical and beautiful in the air when businesses and homes begin putting up Christmas decor. Lights and music greet us at every store entrance, friends and family stop by for traditional festivities.
But so often, we are forever changed as friends and families die away.
During the film PLANES TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES, it takes a bit of time for Neal Page to figure out the obvious. Until a few scenes in, we are led to believe that Del is also trying to get home in time for Thanksgiving. It’s not until the final scene that movie viewers realize he has no one to go home to, and no reason to even go home.
Del is a drifter. We are not permitted to learn much about why his wife died or when, we just know she is gone. And with her went a story–Del’s contribution to her story died with her.
That is grim. It feels overwhelming and it’s nature and beyond depressing and it’s reality. That is why some lively scenes can make you forget the heartache:
So as the nationwide rampage of Del and Neal end, it ends with a heartfelt moment of love when Page arrives back home to smell of turkey scent roasting in the house.
What happens to Del Griffith after this movie ends. Sure, Neal invited Del back to stay for dinner. As the song plays the film out, we see Del, standing there at the front door, humble and meek, accepting of this new friendship.
But let’s play it out. Does Del continue to be Neal’s friend? Does he move in? We highly doubt it. As a matter fact, we are led to believe that Neal is somewhat of a pretentious person of wealth that is beyond reproach. Del is the exact opposite, selling shower curtain rings for money. He does not inhabit the wealthy yuppieism of the Reagan years that Neal emits.
So it’s hard to believe a friendship will continue once Thanksgiving dinner plates get cleaned up. But even if it did, Del will enter the Christmas season alone and void of nurture and love.
So many people this holiday season will be in that same place. That is what makes this movie magical, not just a film that is filled with the most vibrantly spectacular comedic scenes of all time, but also a movie that showcases and dramatizes just how deeply lonely some people can be when that cold and dark air begins to approach around Thanksgiving..
Mall Cop inhabits the same fate. Paul Blart is seemingly fun, adventurous.. but in the end even he was consumed by a desire to be loved in a moment of holiday fraud.
The tragedy of PLANES TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES is that, seven years after the movie was released, on March 4, 1994, Del Griffith himself, John Candy suffered a heart attack in his sleep and died at age 43.. Just imagine how many other roles we could have seen him in were it not for this tragically early demise.
PLANES TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES lives to this day in infamy each holiday season. It has become a staple for many families to continue watching this movie around Thanksgiving. Lately each year it seems to get even more popular.
As with all John Hughes movies, there is a message lurking deep beneath the laughter and frivolity of his films.
Give thanks for what you have, but remember those who don’t have what you do, or what they once did.
Happy Thanksgiving to all. And if you see Del Griffith at your local bus station, do him a favor and invite him for dinner. He needs that human connection..