It’s human nature, I guess, that each generation considers its worldview superior to the thinking of the generation that came before it. It fits the “progressive” narrative, I suppose, that we consider ourselves more enlightened than our elders.
Bemoaning our parents’ mistakes and culpability in our own failures, after all, is an awfully convenient way to cast off blame for our sins.
And while “Everybody’s Fine” is a film filled with touching performances and creative storytelling, its subtle message is nonetheless unequivocal: Dad’s world is done and diseased, and it’s time for him to embrace junior’s wisdom. Out with the capitalist American dream and in with the touchy-feely tenets of a postmodern socialism:
“No, Dad,” the film seems to say, “pushing us to dream and achieve in the competitive market creates within us a complex, and we are thus bound to despair, dysfunction, drug use and even homosexuality (this is Hollywood, after all). Far better would it have been, Pops, for you to simply affirm that we are all equally valuable, that no one needs to work hard to try to rise above, that you would be proud of us no matter what we do and that in the end ‘everybody’s fine.’
“If only you did that, Dad, we wouldn’t have turned out so bad.”
Yeah, well, I don’t buy it.
In “Everybody’s Fine,” the filmmakers pit the thoroughly modern, capitalist, industrious widower Frank Goode (played by Robert De Niro) against his thoroughly postmodern, enlightened, adult children in a battle of who’s to blame (or not to blame, since we enlightened postmoderns wouldn’t dream – gasp! – of personal accountability for our actions) for the family’s dysfunction.
For after Mom died, Dad discovers that the children he pushed to work hard, achieve and succeed – classic modern virtues – didn’t feel like they could live up to his expectations and have developed a pattern of lying to him to keep him proud.
Only after attempting to round up the children for the holidays, failing and then traveling around the country to visit them one by one, does he uncover this pattern of deception.
Tsk, tsk, Dad. You shouldn’t have driven them so hard. They turned against you, victims of your modern worldview.
While it’s true that some dads do indeed push their children too hard, try to live their lives and dreams of victory vicariously through their progeny or use a battering ram to cram their kids into a mold of Dad’s design, that’s not the Frank Goode portrayed in “Everybody’s Fine.”
Frank worked hard his whole life, sacrificed for his children to give them opportunities, encouraged every one of them to follow their dreams (not his) and taught them to work hard to achieve success. And this is a problem? It is in “Everybody’s Fine.”
Never in the film is Frank portrayed as a tyrant. Never is he an oppressive ogre. Just a good ol’, blue-collar American capitalist dreamer.
Then why do his children hide their failures from him?
In truth, it’s because the vaunted saint of the film, the deceased Mom, taught her kids to lie to keep Dad in a perpetual state of ignorant bliss. But the film doesn’t ever explore that reality.
Instead, it insinuates – especially as the final scene wraps up and Dad summarizes what he has learned – that the children merely allowed Dad to live in his capitalist dream world, for they were intimidated into fear by its oppressive demands. Dad, after all, lived in a world where kids got A’s and F’s in school based on merit, where hard work was a prerequisite to providing for your family, where a good education and a drive to succeed were actually needed to achieve success.
“Oh, but Dad,” the movie seems to say, “the world doesn’t work like that. People get hurt by that. People fail in that system. And we can’t allow that. We have to affirm, that in the end, ‘everybody’s fine.’”
But everybody is not fine, not in the real world, and not in this movie. One of the children has sacrificed her marriage for her career, is losing her son’s character down the drain and is flirting with an adulterous relationship, which she actually wants Dad’s approval for! Another has had a child out of wedlock, didn’t even tell Dad about the baby and is exploring homosexuality. Still another is on drugs.
And who’s to blame for these problems? Who’s accountable to fix them?
In “Everybody’s Fine,” the answer is … nobody!
For even though the film obviously blames Dad for all these problems, the characters affirm again and again, “It’s not your fault, Dad.”
No, we can’t blame anyone. We just have to accept them. The big problem in the world, apparently, is that people feel like failures if we hold them accountable for their own actions. Besides, that whole system of actions and consequences and rewards for doing good is from that outdated, capitalist mindset again. And we’re beyond that, right?
Wrong. I reject the rejection of equal opportunity in favor of equal outcome, a pillar of postmodern socialism. I reject the rejection of the American dream and the biblical principle of personal accountability.
I reject the notion that “everybody’s fine,” because we’re not. We’re sinners. And no amount of blaming Dad, blaming the system or blaming nobody for anything changes that. We will be held accountable, like it or not, and the Judge of men’s hearts will not just look over the failures of humanity and announce, “Everybody’s fine.”
- “Everybody’s Fine” is spotted with occasional profanity and use of God’s name, including one scene where Frank launches into a cussing blue streak that’s intended to be humorous by its incongruity with the rest of his character.
- Sexuality in the film is relatively minor, with no sex scenes or nudity, save for a male garden fountain statue that is seen in full frontal exposure, clearly urinating into a backyard pond. A prostitute flashes some leg at Frank in the attempt to solicit his business, but this is played for humor and is very brief.
- Violence is limited to an odd fight scene in the film, where Frank scuffles with a mugger, though this isn’t particularly graphic or frightening.
- The film’s only forays into religion surround the death of a character, who visits Frank as a living memory in a dream. There is some discussion of this character being “with” Mom, who died several months ago, but this is done very nebulously.