What do you do with the mad that you feel?
As adults, we don’t hear Mr. Rogers’ question being directed to us, because he put it in a rhyming song simple enough for the youngest of his viewers, whom he tirelessly coached on understanding and managing their feelings in constructive ways.
This is something children need to learn to do and which adults ought to know how to do. But do we? Do we do it? Do we know how?
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood holds a special place — it would not be too strong to say a sacred place — in the hearts of many. Yet that neighborhood is an infinite distance from where we live now.
The lullaby-like celesta notes at the beginning of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood — both the theme song and the movie, which starts with a meticulous recreation of the opening of every show of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood — may fill us with nostalgia, but the way we go about our lives and interact with people around us suggests little or no continuity between that nostalgia and our current reality.
If Graham Greene was right that “the only true subject” for any film is “life as it is and life as it ought to be,” Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood offers, at most, a powerful paradigm of life as perhaps we feel it ought to be, or would like it to be. Life as it is, though, seems to us a separate subject — not only separate but separated, partitioned, sealed off.
“Subversive” is not a word that I would expect to use in a positive way in a review of a movie about Mr. Rogers, but here we are: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is wisely and gently subversive in blurring the barrier between the as-it-ought-to-be world of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and the as-it-is world of adult conflict and complications.
It starts with the casting.
For a few formative years of our lives, Mr. Rogers showed us the way. Why don’t we walk that way? Because of all the voices dominating the discussion ever since.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.