– By Sam Hendrian –
Flying the nest is no easy task for most young people. To leave the comforts of home and venture out into the world is adventurous and brave, but it can also be scary and bittersweet. Homesickness is common to college students who have left their families for the first time, and it is often feared by prospective students debating whether or not to attend school far away. When facing homesickness and doubts about the purpose of leaving home, it can be helpful to watch movies about characters who face this same struggle. Three movies that examine this subject in a poignant way are Superman, American Graffiti, and Wonder Woman.
When Kal-El (later Clark Kent/Superman) first leaves home at the beginning of Richard Donner’s Superman, he has no choice in the matter. The planet Krypton is on the brink of destruction by solar explosion, so his parents sacrificially build him a crystal rocket and send him away to Earth when he is a mere baby. There they hope he will be a beacon of heroism for humankind, someone who will always stand for truth and justice even when everyone else has lost their way. After landing on Earth, he is lovingly adopted by Martha and Jonathan Kent, a barren couple who have always longed for a child. They give him the name Clark and bring him up in a warm, rural-American household.
Martha and Jonathan soon realize that their son has special powers, but they are afraid of these powers being manifested to the public, for they do not want anyone to come and take Clark away. As a high school student, Clark is quite frustrated about having to keep his powers a secret. Why, he could score countless touchdowns in football games and be the most popular kid in school if only he could “show off” a little. He vents his frustrations to his father, who lovingly listens and then says:
“There’s one thing I do know, son, and that is you are here for a reason. I don’t know whose reason, or whatever the reason is. But I do know one thing: it’s not to score touchdowns.”
Jonathan is telling Clark that he has a noble purpose in life, a sacred mission that he was created to fulfill. Sadly, he has a heart attack and dies right after delivering these wise words, but Clark takes them to heart and realizes that he must leave home to go become who he was meant to be.
In one of Superman’s most moving scenes, Martha Kent looks out the window one morning and sees her son standing way out in the fields while staring at the horizon. Walking out to him, she listens as he gently says, “I have to leave.” She then responds, “I knew this time would come.” This exchange is one that is likely mirrored in homes across the world as boys and girls prepare to go to college and leave their sweet mothers behind. Exciting but bittersweet, sudden but inevitable, the moment when it becomes time to fly the nest is immensely relatable and most certainly tear-jerking. Clark Kent knows that he has been given an important mission to fulfill, and while he does not yet know what this mission is, he bravely steps out into the world to discover it. We ought to be inspired by this, for each of us is here for a reason and has a unique mission that has been given to us by God.
Another film that poignantly explores the subject of leaving home is George Lucas’s American Graffiti. Two of the main characters, Curt and Steve, are trying to enjoy their last night before heading off to college but are having doubts about leaving in the morning. Curt states contemplatively:
“It doesn’t make sense to leave home to look for home, to give up a life to find a new life, to say goodbye to friends you love just to make new friends.”
This is certainly a compelling point, but Curt ultimately realizes that he is destined for a life far more fulfilling than just cruising through town and chasing girls all the time.
At the end of the film, Curt meets the legendary disc jockey Wolfman Jack, who tells him:
“No offense to your hometown here, but this place ain’t exactly the hub of the universe… Here I sit while there’s a big beautiful world out there, don’t ya know.”
The Wolfman wants Curt to have a life more exciting and fulfilling than his own, and Curt takes these words to heart. While his best friend Steve decides to stay home and leave the nest next year, Curt boldly says goodbye to his family and hops on a plane for his future.
A more recent film that effectively conveys the theme of leaving home to fulfill a greater purpose is Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman. Before she becomes the world-revered hero Wonder Woman, Diana is just a combat-trained but ultimately innocent Amazonian princess living entirely among women on a secluded island. When World War I pilot Steve Trevor crashes on the island, Diana’s eyes are opened to the world of war and evil that exists outside her bubble of existence. It is at this moment that she realizes she has been created for a greater purpose than simply defending her fellow Amazonians from the outside world: she is called to go out among men and fight bravely for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.
While her mother knows deep down that this is Diana’s true purpose, she cannot hide her natural motherly concern, saying, “You know that if you choose to leave, you may never return.” Diana replies, “Who will I be if I stay?” She could settle for a life of comfort and let the rest of the world destroy itself, but she knows that this will never fulfill her.
Like Diana, we have the choice to either live a life of comfort or a life of heroic virtue. We may not be called to leave our homes forever and save the world, but we are certainly each called to go beyond our comfort zones and transform the world little by little through acts of love.
While leaving home is often an immensely bittersweet occasion, it can also be incredibly exciting and ultimately fulfilling. The heroic, relatable characters in Superman, American Graffiti, and Wonder Woman all remind us that we are each called to defy mediocrity and become the saints who God created us to be. Perhaps not every person is called to leave his or her home at a young age, but every person is called to step beyond the realm of comfort and into the realm of virtuous adventure. God created each of us for a special purpose; we must each strive to discover and fulfill this purpose with the help of His grace.
About the Author
Sam Hendrian is a student at John Paul the Great Catholic University (Class of 2019) pursuing a double emphasis in Screenwriting and Directing.