Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018)

wont-you-be-my-neighbor

wont-you-be-my-neighbor

Won’t You Be My Neighbor 

Director: Morgan Neville

Starring: Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, Betty Aberlin, Francois Clemmons, David Newell

A review by Jon Caron

Won’t You Be My Neighbor affected me far more than any other film I can think of in recent years. It has stirred a lot of memories and feelings inside of me that I have either chosen to put aside or suppress entirely. This review is going to get personal. I never get personal. Some of the closest people to me only know vague details of my upbringing, it’s something that while I acknowledge had a substantial part in forming who I am as a person, I choose not to dwell on or use it as either a crutch or some kind of ‘I overcame’ type story. It’s just my life. It’s simply the hand I’ve been dealt and this film has given me an entirely new perspective on just how much Fred Rogers has inspired me and also how far from those teachings I’ve fallen.

I grew up in a household where my parents divorced when I was 6 years old. I grew up in a household filled with alcoholism, infidelity, severe mental disorders and extreme physical violence. I also grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and every single day, I was greeted by Fred Rogers and regaled with life lessons concerning kindness, compassion and love. Regardless of whatever chaos was going on around me, whenever that show was on, I felt safe and understood. That I mattered. It was an amalgamation of these lessons coupled with a tumultuous upbringing that developed my approach to life into something representing a mix between Mr. Rogers and Mr. Spock.

I want to be a good person. I also want to believe that human beings are all inherently good and kind, that our very humanity alone unites far more than any differences we could possibly have…but I’m not Fred Rogers and neither are most people. When I say my own approach to life is somewhere between Mr. Rogers and Mr. Spock, I mean that while I try my hardest to be kind to others and polite; I also tend to only think logically and have a large emotional disconnect that I’ve developed simply as a survival tool growing up that has enabled me to handle situations calmly, rationally and without emotional interference clouding my decisions. I’m also starting to realize that it has also clouded my heart to loving and allowing to be loved. Both by myself and others.

Walking out of Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a lot like getting a refresher course in what it means to be a human being. A proper one. In today’s increasingly divisive world, the notion of being selfless and loving towards our fellow denizens of this planet, seems almost alien. As someone who has made a living in the advertising industry for about 15 years now and most recently social media marketing, the amount of negativity I am subjected to on a daily basis is staggering and exhausting. I have watched multiple decade long friendships die over political views, religious beliefs and various other petty disagreements. Watching this on a daily basis has broken my heart numerous times and further calloused my own emotions and willingness to put love into a world that I don’t feel is going to return it. This has resulted most recently in an increasing feeling of loneliness and isolation. What can I or anybody else possibly do to combat this growing despair in a world that seems utterly hellbent on destroying itself?

Love.

“Love is at the root of everything – all learning, all parenting, all relationships. Love or the lack of it. And what we see and hear on the screen is part of who we become.”

It amazes me that even as calloused, cynical and filled with doubt as I am concerning the human condition, a few simple sentences can put things into such perspective.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a celebration of the life of Fred Rogers and the love he wanted to and did share with all of us for almost 40 years. It is a beautiful realization that while life is complicated, hard and sometimes cruel; it is also reflective of what we put into it. So put understanding into it. Compassion. And love.

Whether or not you were ever a fan of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, or even know who Fred Rogers was, this film is of monumental importance to the human condition. Much like his television show was, it is a looking glass into what makes us who we are. Why we matter. And why we deserve to be loved. All of us.

This could very well be one of the most important films in the history of the medium and comes at a time in the human story where I cannot recommend it enough to every single person.

5/5

-Film Frak Jon-

 

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