The Powerful Subtext of Homeward Bound

Subtext-a message which is not stated directly but can be inferred.

Homeward Bound is one of those rare childhood films that can mean more to you as an adult.  I would place Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in the same category, and I explain why in the posts, Willy Wonka is a Fine Wine and Finding God in Film.  These films touch upon universal themes that children either overlook or fail to appreciate because there is much about life they have yet to experience.  In the case of Homeward Bound, it took many repeat viewings and a good amount of growing up for me to grasp the powerful subtext at its core.  From beginning to end this story is about fatherhood.

The film opens with the character of Chance, a young “pup” of a dog, delivering a brief monologue about his past.  He says,  “I was abandoned when I was very young. I lived on the streets scranging for food, sleeping wherever I could; that seemed like fun at first, but pretty soon, it landed me behind bars.”  We learn that he was separated from his parents, and likely also separated from his first owners.  Like a child whose father walked out, Chance feels the sting of abandonment.

The human children in the film, Peter, Hope and Jamie, are faced with the difficulty of accepting a new man in the role of father.  In the beginning of the film we witness a wedding between their mother and her new husband, Bob.  The children, especially Peter, are noticeably troubled.  There is a touching moment immediately after the couple finishes saying their vows where Peter looks down at Shadow and pats him.  It makes me wonder, what happened to Peter’s father?  Did he walk out on the family, or did he die?  It’s likely that Shadow was either Peter’s father’s dog, or given to Peter by his father.  Regardless, we can assume that Shadow is deeply connected to Peter and his lost father.  And in many ways Shadow fills the role of father for both Peter and Chance.

Without question, Shadow is the heart and soul of Homeward Bound.  He is loyal, faithful, and wise.  He is the leader and protector of Chance and the cat, Sassy.  At the start of the film we see that Shadow views Chance much like an old man views the younger generation.  He says, “I’d sure like to give that dog a talking to,” when Chance misbehaves at the wedding.  Then he continues by asking Chance the rhetorical question, “Would a rolled up newspaper mean anything to you?”  Shadow understands that Chance needs guidance and discipline.  He has a lot to learn, since he has grown up without a fatherly example.

Later in the film, after the animals have spent many days journeying through the woods in an attempt to return home, Sassy gets caught in a river and tumbles over a waterfall.  Once Shadow and Chance determine that she must be dead, we see the first moment in which Chance recognizes that Shadow is worthy of his respect.  Here is the exchange.

Shadow: [after Sassy is lost in the river] I shouldn’t have made her come.

Chance: It’s not your fault, she wanted to come.

Shadow: But it’s my responsibility. I had a responsibility to Sassy – to love her and protect her – the same as I have to you… and to Peter. And the same as you have to Jamie.

Chance: But we didn’t ask for this job.

Shadow: We didn’t have to. It’s built in. Has been ever since the dawn of time… when a few wild dogs took it upon themselves to watch over man, to bark when he’s in danger, to run and play with him when he’s happy, to nuzzle him when he’s lonely. That’s why they call us man’s best friend.

Chance: [narrating] Looking at him that night, he seemed so wise… and ancient, like the first dog who ever walked the earth. I just hope that one day, I can be like him.

The exchange could easily be applied to fatherhood.  Shadow speaks of having a responsibility to love and protect those who depend on him.  And when Chance challenges this obligation by saying, “But we didn’t ask for this job,” Shadow responds that it is built-in.  It is a deep and undeniable truth of life.  Many fathers don’t ask to be fathers.  Many fathers don’t accept the responsibility to love and protect their children. Chance is just beginning to understand.

Near the end of the film, Shadow falls into a hole and it appears that he may never get out.  Watch from minute 1 to minute 4.  After, I will explain how this is the moment that Chance fully accepts fatherhood, and Shadow answers the problem of abandonment, which permeates the entire film.

“I won’t let you give up,” Chance promises Shadow.  He has become the loving protector.  He gets down in the mud with Shadow to give him the strength to move forward.  Chance also finally acknowledges that he loves Shadow and wants him by his side.  This shows a profound devotion, much like the kind a father experiences with his son.  But at the same time Shadow believes that his life is nearing its end.  He states, “I have nothing left to give.”  Despite Chance’s sincere efforts to encourage him, Shadow takes this desperate occasion to teach Chance a “final” lesson.  He says, “You’ve learned  everything you need, Chance. Now all you have to learn is how to say goodbye.”  Every father must leave his son someday, and even if he was entirely loving and wise and loyal the son must learn to be on his own.  He must make peace with the absence of his father.

If you continue to watch that clip you will see the children playing basketball with Bob.  They are very happy, and we witness a touching moment in which Peter and Hope call their new father, dad.  It tells us that the children, especially Peter, have accepted him.  This means that they have learned to make peace with the father that is lost. It also indicates that they have made peace with the likelihood that their animals will never return.  They have matured by learning how to say goodbye.  And a major part of saying goodbye is the ability to say hello to what is in front of you.

The return of the animals at the end is deeply moving.  It is also profound.  After Sassy and Chance return, Peter becomes sad as he embraces the likelihood that Shadow was unable to make it.

“It was too far.  He was just too old,” Peter tells himself.

The gulf between the living and the dead appears too far for us to ever be reunited.  How could we ever hope to see them again?

I can’t help but think about God at this moment.  I think about the promise of new life.  All that is written about God being our loving Father, our protector.  How often are we like Peter, losing hope?  It’s too far.  He is too old.  It’s just an old story.

My Father isn’t about to rise over that hill.

Homeward Bound is about fatherhood, and healing from the pain of abandonment when fathers leave.  The entire film is an expression of a father’s devotion to be reunited with his son.

It is about boundless love.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39)


How Many Hours Have I Been Writing?

There is a belief, or at least a generally agreed upon assumption, that it takes about 10,000 hours to truly master something.  A man named Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called Outliers which discusses this very thing.  “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness”, Gladwell writes.  He then goes on to write about The Beatles performing in Europe over twelve hundred times for periods often exceeding four hours, and all before they ever came to the U.S.  He also cites Mozart and Bill Gates as people who, more than being brilliant, simply spent hours, days, and years practicing something.   Basically, if anyone ever wants to be a master they have to put in an enormous amount of time.  This all makes me wonder, how many hours have I devoted to the mastery of the written word?  Am I even close to the magic number?

I first want to break down ten-thousand hours.

10,000 hours = 416 and 2/3 days

That means if all I did was write, it would take over a year to reach my goal.  To put it in perspective, consider that a person working forty hours a week clocks-in about two-thousand hours a year.  It would take five whole years of working forty hours a week to reach the magic number.   Even with a lot of practice it is difficult to hit ten-thousand hours in less than ten years.

Now that you understand that ten-thousand is hard to reach, I will attempt to calculate my hours.

Since we’re already here, let’s begin with the blog.  This will be my 185th post.  I figure it takes between 45 and 120 minutes to write most posts.  There are some that have taken nearly 4 hours, but they are rare.  As a conservative estimate I will choose 80 minutes as an average.

185 * 80 minutes= 14800 minutes

That’s only about 247 hours!  It would take me 10 and 1/4 days to re-write all of these posts.

The next thing I want to look at is the number of hours I invested in college writing.  I went to school for 4 years, which is a total of 8 semesters.  As an English major I had many courses that featured a significant amount of essay writing.  I took about 5 courses each semester.  A very conservative estimate for the number of essays in each course would be 4.  So that’s 20 essays per semester.  The average length of an essay is between 4 and 8 pages, or 6 pages.  Figuring an hour per page it took me 6 hours to write.  Some quick math tells me that is 120 hours each semester.

8 * 120 hours =  960 hours

And since one of those papers took 40 or so hours to write I will increase it to 1,000.

1,000 hours of writing in college.

Throughout the last 10 years of my life I have written a few stories.  They have ranged from 3 to 25 pages, and I’ve written about 20 of them.  I’ll estimate that 15 hours is the average time it takes to write them.

20 * 15 hours = 300 hours

I did a fair amount of writing in high school as well.  There were speeches, essays, and a creative writing class.  I think 500 hours over the course of 4 years is a reasonable estimate.

I also need to include miscellaneous writing from my life.  Things I have typed or written down that weren’t blog posts, essays, or short stories.  Journal entries, movie scripts, emails, love letters, IMs,  Facebook messages etc.   I think all of these can account for 150 hours a year.  And let’s make it span the past 14 years since it was in 5th grade that I discovered a passion for writing.

14 * 150 hours= 2,100 hours

So how many hours have I devoted to writing?

4,150 hours!

That’s about 173 days.

Unfortunately this means that I am only about half way to ten-thousand hour mastery.  I’ll see you when I’m 50.

I need to write about reading.  Any good writer understands that reading is a critical component of writing.  I didn’t include the hours spent reading in my calculation because I wanted to focus on the specific act of writing.  It becomes much more complicated when reading is factored into the mastery of writing.  That being said, the amount of time I’ve spent reading is probably between 3,000 and 4,000 hours.  

Conflict of Interest: Media, the Untrustworthy Narrator

Have you noticed that newspapers, magazines, and cable news networks have a political bias?  For many it is obvious that Fox News is conservative, and anyone who has watched MSNBC should understand that their bias is liberal.  The New York Times and The Boston Globe are liberal.  The Weekly Standard magazine and much of talk radio is conservative.  Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are liberal.  The Huffington Post and Bill Maher are extremely liberal. and Glenn Beck are extremely conservative.  Hollywood is slanted far to the left.  The media in this country, largely liberal with some conservative outlets, makes a living of “telling us how it is.”  Believe it or not, I’m not going to write about how dangerous this political bias is, though it certainly is a critical issue.  What I am going to look at today is an issue that goes a step beyond the political bias and includes both liberal and conservative media.  It is something that any good narrator understands when telling a story.   The media feeds on it, nurtures it, sells it, and shapes  it.  I am talking about conflict.  Conflict is a problem.

Do you recall the issue with Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut?  Well, before that issue was another issue, which was actually far more important.  I am referring to the federal mandate imposed by the Obama administration that would require all health plans to offer FDA approved contraceptives.  The conflict that arose from this came when the Catholic Church challenged that the mandate would compromise their doctrine that opposed contraception.  Catholic institutions, such as universities and hospitals, would be required under the mandate to provide contraception in their health insurance plans.  This was a legitimate conflict between religious freedom and the rule of government.  I do not discredit the media for focusing on this.  But, when a more emotional conflict arose, the Limbaugh/Fluke incident, the media bent over backwards to fan the flames.

Suddenly the issue shifted to the Republican “War on Women” and Limbaugh was chewed out and demonized.  The media now had a victim and an attacker to hone in on, and the red herring was effectively placed.  Fox News hosts suggested that perhaps Fluke was strategically placed to draw out criticism from conservatives, which would make conservatives look bad.  Liberal outlets glorified Fluke and demonized Limbaugh, and used the issue to talk about how bad conservatism is for women’s health.  The bottom line is, a more emotional and inflammatory conflict arose, and the media shifted the narrative accordingly.

How many people know that eventually the mandate was changed to include exemptions for religious institutions?

More recently we saw the media use the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman to revitalize the emotional issue of racism.  NBC’s Today Show aired the 911 tape between Zimmerman and a dispatcher.  What they did was selectively edit it to make it appear that Zimmerman had voluntarily mentioned Trayvon’s race.  This implied that Zimmerman was driven by a fear or hatred of blacks.  Al Sharpton, ever the one to capitalize on racial conflict, rushed to judgment and declared Zimmerman a racist.  When he was questioned about rushing to judgment and fanning the flames of racial conflict he had this response:

Trayvon Martin committed no crime,” he said. “He had no weapon and he had every legal right to be where he was. The rush to judgment was those that moved against him, said he was suspicious, and took his life. So to lecture us about rushing to judgment, we’re a victim of a rush to judgment in this case. Let’s be real clear on that.

Sharpton’s rush to judgement mirrored that of the national media, which sought to make this conflict more interesting by assuming that Zimmerman was a racist.  So, what the people of America got was more conflict and hate.  In this case, like in many cases, the conflict was exaggerated and unethically presented for the sake of capturing viewers.

I would encourage you to step back and investigate the narrative that is told to you by the media.  Consider what this storm of conflict does for an already divided America.  Conflict is interesting, and we tune in when stories strike an emotional chord.  We are influenced by what we see and hear.

Will you buy the narrative?