My next movie in my The Movies That Made Me series is a film that was a box office and critical disappointment, 2001’s Life as a House starring Kevin Kline, Hayden Christensen, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jena Malone, and Mary Steenburgen.
Unlike my previous two movies, Life as a House is not something I bought and then appreciated. I rented Life as a House, or possibly my father rented it and I ended up watching it. It’s a bit of a tear jerker that focuses on a man who discovers he has terminal cancer, so he takes his angry son away for the summer to tear down an old beach shack and build a nice home. The film concentrates on the various relationships that Kevin Kline (the father) has and how he allowed work and his pursuit of success to turn him into something less than his authentic self.
This was a common thread in movies from this time frame whether Fight Club, Office Space, or American Beauty, there were lots of stories discussing men waking up and realizing how they were living was not serving them. Their life was inauthentic and it was either causing damage to themselves or those around them. I believe this notion really stuck with me because I didn’t want to wake up twenty years from now realizing I had chased all the wrong things and become something I couldn’t stand. And while my life is less than perfect, I can say twenty years later, I have accomplished that goal.
In one of the opening scenes, Kevin Kline is laid off from his job as an architect after twenty years. He flips out and destroys his office, along with various models of his work. It’s this act of rebellion against an unloving and unjust company that really connected with me. All of the previous movies I mentioned had similar scenes: American Beauty has Kevin Spacey blackmail his boss after being laid off, Fight Club has The Narrator blackmail his boss after being fired, and Office Space has Peter steal from his company after being promoted when trying to get fired. I’m pretty sure my distrust for corporations and my view that a job is a business arrangement helped me avoid the pitfalls so many people have when thinking their job is their family or that the companies they work for actually care about them as human beings. It amazes me that people today complain like being exploited as a worker is something new, it’s been going on since the beginning of capitalism.
Similar to American Beauty, this movie has a pending death that is made abundantly clear from the start. Unlike American Beauty, our protagonist actually knows he’s going to die, so works to make the best use of time making something that will outlive him: both memories and a house. In doing so, he’s forced to face mistakes and attempt to make amends in a very short period of time. I think this concept also sunk in and forced me to face my own mortality at a young age. A long life is not guaranteed and because of that, we must live each day like it’s our last. We must put our best foot forward, let the people we appreciate know we love and appreciate them, and try to enjoy this crazy thing we call life.
George: You know the great thing, though, is that change can be so constant you don’t even feel the difference until there is one. It can be so slow that you don’t even notice that your life is better or worse, until it is. Or it can just blow you away, make you something different in an instant. It happened to me.
Sam: You knew you were dying from the start?
George: We’re all dying from the start. I just got pushed to the head of the line.
George: My dad used to play this game… I never really understood what it was until after he was gone…
THE GAME was to make me smaller than he was. Smaller. Always smaller. No matter what! He could be almost invisible as a human being, but… I still had to be smaller. So that i-if I got good grades in school, then I was a pussy for not playing football, or-or if I… cut my hair for him, it was never short enough. Or if I shaved my head then I looked like a psycho. I never won the game, never! And if he couldn’t… make me smaller with words…
Sam… I won’t ever hit you. Ever. I don’t want you smaller. I want you to be happy and you’re not. Not here with me, not home with your mother, not alone, not anywhere. You’re what I was most of my life, Sam. I see it in your eyes, in your sleep, in your answer to everything! You’re barely alive!
George: Hindsight. It’s like foresight without a future.
George: [to Robin] I can tell you I love you as many times as you can stand to hear it, but all it does is remind us that love is not enough.