A child’s mind is a fragile piece of material. This is a hard truth we can all agree on. It’s a suggestive slab of play-dough that can either be molded into something wonderful, or it can end up as a crusty skid mark embedded in the carpet. The mind can be altered by something as simple as a movie. Sometimes it’s a movie that makes someone question not only the mysteries of the universe but the meaning of life in general. In my case, this film was Time Bandits.
Lets go back to a simpler time. Simpler for myself anyway, mostly because i was only five. My family lived in a row home in Trenton New Jersey and I remember my dad routinely calling the Yankees “a bunch of bums,” when he would come home from a long night at the office. My mom had her hands completely tied with my toddler sister so I was usually subdued by the warm aura of the television. We conveniently lived within walking distance of a mom and pop video store so it became a Friday tradition to rent movies and eat pizza. Praise On Demand and Netflix all you want, but America lost an important pastime the second the last Blockbuster faded away into obscurity.
On one particular trip to this purveyor in fine films of the VHS sort, my mom picked up the time-travel/fantasy romp known as Time Bandits. Upon first glance of the cover art, one would assume that it’s a perfect adventure movie for a rambunctious 5 year old scamp: Time Travel? Swashbuckling? Dwarves? Absolutely! I was still on an imagination high after seeing Neverending Story so I was on board for anything relating to the fantasy genre. What my mother unfortunately didn’t know is that Terry Gilliam, while he may be a genius, is also a certified madman and doesn’t give a shit about the well being of your kids.
The tape went in the VHS player and the film began. I was left to absorb it all while my mom stayed busy in the next room with my sister.
Our protagonist, Kevin, is a lonesome kid whose parents end their days by neglecting their child for material possessions and watching hours of television. You couldn’t help but relate to the ignored latchkey archetype as a child. He’s the sort of kid that deserves some fantastical adventure and to perhaps learn a little perspective on life in the end. Of course, I might have been a little too young for that life-lesson to be: Everything in the Universe is controlled by an an Omnipotent being and he will kill your fucking parents.
Before I go on, let’s briefly review the end of film; Kevin defeats Evil; meets a man who’s essentially God; learns this Being simply created Evil to see if it worked at the expense of people’s lives; Kevin returns home from his time-adventure; a piece of concentrated evil comes back with him; his parents touch it and explode (to death) ; Kevin is left with no home and no family, the end.
I didn’t know what to think. At that age you just expect a film to pander towards your need for a tightly knit happy ending, but this was just sad and bleak. As someone who attended a Christian Pre-school I was always taught to be kind and love others and you could be forgiven for all of your sins. Time Bandits changed all of that for me in those brief moments after Kevin stood there looking at what was left of his parents. Once the seed of nihilism had been planted in my brain I realized that death could come at any moment and the laws of time are unforgiving.
Over 20 years later I decided to watch it again and I can honestly say it IS a great fantasy-time-travel romp. In my younger days I hadn’t been exposed to comedic masterminds Monty Python, I really hadn’t have ample time to develop much of a sense of humor outside the realm of of three stooges and fart sounds. I watch it now and realize that the Python crew and Gilliam were great cynics. In reference to the ending of Time Bandits Gilliam has said ‘The audience is kids and every kid has this fantasy about getting rid of his parents.” From my own perspective, the ending now represents that shitty thought we all had as children when we told our parents that we “wished they were dead.” I suppose the moral of the story is; Be careful what you wish for because your parents might explode.
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