Friday, January 21, 2011
Pee-Wee and Piety? What I Learned from "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure"
Alright, I’m going to admit it. “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” is one of my favorite movies. Really. I find it hilarious.
This is not to say that I have not seen better or more meaningful movies – in fact, it would be hard to think of many movies that would not be more significant than “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” – but I do have to say that since it was released in 1985, I have seen this movie countless times, and it has been amusing to me every single time. I mean, it’s weird, that’s for sure. But it is one of the few movies that I regularly quote, just because I found it so darned funny.
Now, Paul Reubens (who plays the role of Pee-Wee) has turned out to be, in some ways, a rather unsavory character in real life. This is unfortunate, and I am certainly not promoting any of those immoral events or practices that he has been involved in with this blog entry. I am simply writing this because I have watched this seemingly senseless movie so many times through the years that I have actually picked out a few scenes that seem to have catechetical value. I certainly don’t think that Paul Reubens and Tim Burton had any intention of passing on the faith through this movie – far from it! – but what can I say? I think we can find things that attest to the faith everywhere, even in strange cult movies from the 80s, so now I share them with you!
The premise of “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” is this: Pee-Wee has a very special bike that he values more than anything else in the world, and he would never part with it – not even for the exorbitant amounts of money that his weird neighbor (also a grown man who acts like a child) Francis has offered him.
Bike = a symbol of the good, the true, and the beautiful (which points to faith or God)
While visiting his friend Dottie, Pee-Wee’s bike is stolen. Beside himself at the loss of his most prized possession, Pee-Wee makes every possible effort to retrieve his bike, and finally resorts to visiting Madame Ruby, a lying fortune teller who says that she ‘sees’ his bike in the basement of the Alamo.
Fortune teller leads him astray, so he can’t find his bike = false idols won’t lead you to the true God
Pee-Wee decides to travel to the Alamo to find his bike. Along the way, he meets a beautiful young waitress, Simone, who longs to live in Paris, France. He encourages her to follow her heart.
Pee-Wee tells Simone, “You can't just wish and hope for something to come true. You have to make it happen.” = don’t let fear and self-doubt stand in the way of your dreams; God has a good plan for your life
As his adventure continues, Pee-Wee tries to use the phone at a bar, and accidentally knocks over many motorcycles parked out front, which enrages the biker gang gathered there. Eventually, Pee-Wee earns their respect by dancing to “Tequila” atop a pool table, and they wish him well as his bike-search continues.
Pee-Wee gets mixed up with a group of bikers, but in the end they all become friends = don’t judge a book by its cover
Pee-Wee eventually gets to the Alamo, only to learn (after a painfully-long and very funny tour, which you can watch here) that there is no basement:
After having told Dottie that he’s a loner and a rebel earlier in the movie, Pee-Wee now has to call her to ask for her help.
Pee-Wee admits to Dottie that “I learned something out here on the road. Humility” = we’re all called out of our comfort zones in search of goodness, truth, and beauty and ultimately we all learn humility – we can’t complete this search on our own. We need others, no matter how annoying or unnecessary they might seem at times; we are saved in bunches.
Eventually Pee-Wee does get his bike back, and they make a movie about him because he is now considered a hero. Sorry – not much catechetical content there, unless you really want to stretch the imagination to say that the movie is a type of ‘canonization’ of Pee-Wee. But in the words of Mary Poppins, “That’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?”
So these are the things of faith that I learned from “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.” I just saw an article that claimed that screenwriter/producer Judd Apatow may direct a new Pee-Wee Herman movie, but to be honest, I hope not. While it would have to be better than the pathetic excuse for a sequel that was “Big Top Pee-Wee,” it would still have to pale in comparison to the cinematic gold of the original. In any case, I hope that if you haven’t seen the movie (or haven’t watched it in a long while, like me), you might think of watching it again. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a little nugget of inspiration for your own big adventure of faith.