This article is part of our Classic Film Throwback series
– By Sam Hendrian –
Human beings seem born with an innate dissatisfaction about the age that they are. Kids wish they were adults so that they can do adult things, and adults wish they were kids so that they can be free of mature responsibilities. This dissatisfaction is hilariously explored in the 1988 fantasy-comedy classic Big. Starring Tom Hanks as Josh Baskin, a twelve-year-old stuck in a thirty-year-old’s body, the film lightheartedly exhorts adults everywhere to preserve their inner child for the sake of living a more joyful, optimistic life.
Distraught at not being tall enough to go on a particular ride at a traveling carnival, twelve-year-old Josh Baskin puts a coin in a Zoltar fortune teller machine and wishes that he were “big.” The next morning, he is alarmed to discover that his body has transformed into that of a thirty-year-old man. Chased out of the house by his horrified mother, who accuses him of kidnapping the real Josh, he finds the only person who will believe his extraordinary story: his best friend Billy. Together, the two friends figure out how Josh can successfully navigate through the adult world and hopefully recover his twelve-year-old body by finding another Zoltar machine.
With his innocent charm and unassuming sense of responsibility, Josh manages to successfully interview for an entry-level job at MacMillan Toy Company and rents out an extremely cheap apartment. It is at work that he falls in love with an executive named Susan, who is attracted to his charmingly childlike outlook on life. In one of the film’s funniest moments, Josh invites Susan into his apartment for a “sleepover,” the adult connotation of “spending the night” not even crossing his mind.
Josh’s innocence is interpreted as ingenuity by Mr. MacMillan, the owner of the toy company. Mr. MacMillan promotes him to Vice President of Product Development, a job in which he is required to test toys all day. The life of an adult is turning out to be pretty sweet, but when increasingly stressful responsibilities and the longing to be with his parents start to weigh him down, he realizes that he is not ready to be a thirty-year-old and increases his efforts to find a Zoltar machine that will make the necessary reversal.
While Big states clearly that we each need to be satisfied with the current age we are, it also advises us not to lose our inner child entirely when we become adults. In a world filled with cynicism and corporate Machiavellianism, Josh stands out as a light of youthful positivity and pure intention to his co-workers and bosses. On a paradoxical level, Susan finds his kindness-infused gullibility and optimistic outlook on life to be signs of adult maturity. Her jealous, unkind ex-boyfriend Paul asks, “What’s so special about Baskin?” She replies, “He’s a grown-up.”
Josh is by no means perfect as a child or as an adult. There are definitely moments when he succumbs to selfishness and other vices. Nevertheless, he reminds us of why Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” The virtues of joy, kindness, and humility flow naturally from his young heart, which are virtues that can form the antidote our toxically pessimistic society needs.
Even if we fear we have lost our inner child, he or she can always be found again. While age-related dissatisfaction is not necessarily healthy, it is quite understandable why many adults long to return to their childhoods. Innocence is bliss, and bliss is the ultimate goal of every human heart. Perhaps we can still experience the bliss of innocence without wishing on a Zoltar machine to be “small” again. We cannot escape adult responsibilities or the sufferings of life in general, but we can escape the despair that often manifests itself simultaneously. As children, we firmly believe deep down that even in the toughest of times, everything will be okay in the end. It is never too late to reclaim this hopeful state of mind.
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.
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