For personal growth and adventure, there’s nothing like a road trip. Start at Point A with a goal and a plan, and by the time you’ve reached Point B you’ve realized that the journey was more important than the destination. Somehow the mayhem, misadventures, and close encounters along the way changed you into a better person. The list of such films is long indeed, so in order to make things interesting I’m going to limit this to only my personal favorites where most of the journey is not actually spent on a road. That narrows it down a bit, doesn’t it?
In 1966 independent film director Bruce Brown released his travelogue Endless Summer. The camera follows two pioneering surfers Robert August and Mike Hynson as they follow the summer season around the world in search of the perfect wave.
Although they use roads sometimes to get them to the beaches, the mode of travel is strictly the longboard and a tasty wave. As they make their way around the globe they often find that they missed the best surf “yesterday” but they still manage to ride whatever curls are available and make friends with the locals. Robert and Mike teach others the joys of surfing while learning the bigger lessons about global brotherhood.
Walking across Russia is a key plot point to the stories in Mel Brooks’ 1970 dark comedy The Twelve Chairs and Peter Weir’s 2010 epic The Way Back. In the former, a greedy ex-nobleman and a professional con-man team up to find treasure hidden in one chair of a dining room suite that has been parceled out to various agencies across the newly Soviet country. By the end of the quest, the nobleman has found his humanity and the con-man learns compassion. Do they find the treasure? No spoilers here, but the theme song is “Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst”.
The Way Back begins in a Siberian prison camp during WWII. A group of international prisoners manage to escape and undertake a perilous journey through Russia, the Gobi desert, the Himalayas and finally India. Based on a possibly true story (The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz) the film is probably a little too slow for thrill-seekers but a visual treat for viewers with a little more patience. The lesson learned is simply that disparate people with a common goal can overcome their differences to succeed.
Finally, I present two animated tales of fantastic journeys by air and under the sea, Up (2009) and Yellow Submarine (1968). Up is the Pixar tale of a senior citizen fulfilling a promise to his dearly departed wife. Attaching thousands of helium balloons to his house, he heads to South America with an accidental stowaway boy who teaches him that simple joys can be better than great adventures. Children will love the silliness of a talking dog and the wonder of the floating house while adults will be surprised how quickly they become emotionally involved with the curmudgeon on a quest. It’s no wonder that this is Pixar’s 3rd highest grossing film.
The Beatles had little to do with Yellow Submarine other than contributing the soundtrack. The beauty of it is how producer Al Brodax and his team built a story around those songs that captured the imagination of audiences already intimately familiar with the world of the Fab Four. Pop art images abound to create a surreal quality to the Beatles’ voyage through the Sea of Green to Pepperland where they must save the populace from the Blue Meanies. Even John, Paul, George and Ringo learn the power of their music when it brings the people of Pepperland to rise against the Meanies, who hate the joy the songs bring. The real Beatles loved the finished product so much that they requested to appear as themselves at the end of the film.
When you’re done watching these movies, I hope you take the time to get off the sofa and take an off-road trip yourself. In NYC, it’s easy to do. From the Bronx Zoo to Coney Island all you need is love…and a MetroCard.