When I went into the preview cinema to watch Wish I Was Here I had no idea how profound an effect it would have – on the friend accompanying me. No matter how close a person might be to you, there’s always more to learn. And there’s nothing like a film about father-son issues to bring to light our deep-seated desires to have and be the right kind of dad.
Wish I Was Here was written by Adam and Zach Braff, the latter being most famous for his lead role in the off-beat medical comedy Scrubs. Zach also directs and stars as Aiden Bloom, a Jewish father who has to put his dreams on hold when his father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) reveals he’s dying of cancer. This comes on top of the news that Gabe can no longer pay the private school fees for Aiden’s two children, and the growing realization that Aiden’s decade long experiment with acting as a career is probably a failure. Aiden is forced into home schooling his kids while his wife works, and trying to pull his family together while his father dies. Circumstances are forcing him to become more of a father than he’s ever had to be in his life and it scares him. He feels unqualified to shape his children’s lives because he barely understands his own.
Aiden is only a token Jew, paying no real attention to his religion except when he hopes it will benefit him. In that sense he could just as easily have played a nominal Christian – the sort who only finds time for God when life hurts. Aiden goes to his Rabbi hoping the synagogue will give him some charity and is met with a stone, cold refusal:
Aiden: “What about my dream? I mean, doesn’t God believe in my pursuit of happiness?
Wish I Was Here uses the moment as a punch line because, of course, we’re supposed to think that the Rabbi is a very poor representative for God. But the moment lands much closer to the truth than we’d like to think. God does want us to be happy, eternally so, but His most important goal is to bring us closer to Him:
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” [my emphasis]
Did you catch that? His purpose. And that portion of the letter to the church at Rome goes on to say that His purpose is to make us more like Jesus, because he was perfectly happy and perfectly at peace because he knew exactly he was in relationship to God. So our Heavenly Father is prepared to sacrifice our happiness now for that greater goal of making us perfectly happy.
Not surprisingly Aiden has to go through his own trials too, which include coming to a better understanding of his father and so a better understanding of himself. I think that’s what affected my friend so much, as it affected me. No matter how much distance we think we’ve put between us and them, they will continue to shape our lives even long after they’ve left this earth.
Of course I wouldn’t pin too much on Wish I Was Here’s philosophy because it also includes allowing sons to swear because it’s a liberating experience – but I don’t mind Aiden’s conclusion. Without giving away the end of the film, we see him come to a point where he realizes that his greatest happiness doesn’t reside in making himself the centre of his world:
“When we were kids, my brother and I used to pretend that we were heroes, the only ones who could save the day. But maybe we’re just the regular people, the ones who get saved.”
It’s a conclusion I think that would fit well in the mouth of a Christian every time he or she wonders why they can’t pull themselves out of the mess they find themselves in.
Release Date: September 11