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I Am Your Father: 11 Father's Day Films From The Bearded Trio

By Patrick Gibbs

On March 17, 2015, I lost my father. When I woke up that morning, he was alive and, as far as a knew, well, and by the end of that day, following a tragic accident, my siblings and I were gathered together and literally watched him breathe his final breaths. The passing of the man who'd provided for me all of my life, the man whom I'd idolized as a child, the man who was often distant and at times harsh and angry, and the man I often wished would reach out to me more and at the same time failed so many times to reach out to myself, was more than I could process. I still haven't processed it, but a year later, the two facts that I can't shake are that he is gone, and that he will always be with me.

As I look back at my formative years and even my adult life, four men stand out to me in shaping who I am. George took me to a galaxy far, far away and with the help of his friend Steven, introduced my to the greatest adventurer that ever lived, and together they told me what I wanted to do with my life; John gave my life music, made my heart soar, made me experience joy, suspense, sorrow and love; and Les . . . Les was my Dad. He gave me my life.
The following are my my picks for the Top Eleven Father's Day Films made by one or more members of The Bearded Trio, and this list is meant as a salute to them, and to fathers and their children. Each one passes the most important test of being a Father's Day film in that they all remind me of my Dad, and I suspect that each of them does so for many others.


The ultimate father/son reconciliation movie, and probably the biggest "event" movie of my childhood, this remains arguably the most most flawed and arguably the most fun installment in the original trilogy.  It took me a very long time to process the fact that Darth Vader's death caused me to shed far more tears than Yoda's did, and sometimes I still think about it to this day. No matter how cynical the viewer, the moment when Vader realizes that he can't let the Emperor kill his son, and finds the person he once was, is incredibly powerful stuff, and one of the great moments in cinematic history.  


25 years after its initial release, this movie that proved to be a minor box office disappointment and a major critical one has taken on another identity all together: cinema classic.
A generation grew up on "Hook", and when the tragic death of Robin Williams flooded the news and social media, this was one of the first films mentioned, as people posted about "happy thoughts" and President Barack Obama called Williams a "Bangarang Peter Pan." Perhaps the biggest reason for the longevity and love that this film has built up is the resonant themes of childhood and fatherhood, and the correlation between them. Peter chooses not to remain a child forever because, "I wanted to be a Daddy." Peter Banning finds his inner Dad by embracing his inner child, and finds a focus for his inner child by embracing his inner Dad. And as his children look on in wonder at the man whose love and approval they have so desperately sought, and in some cases have rejected, for a wonderful, shining moment they quite literally see him as most of us once saw our fathers: as our hero, the man who could fly.


After having felt a little burned by "Temple of Doom", Spielberg was a little less than thrilled to do another chapter in the series, and wasn't quite sold by Lucas' pitch about the search for the Holy Grail, or even particularly interested in the idea of the Grail as a quest for eternal youth. But he found another hook.

"What if the Grail means more than that?" Spielberg said in a 2007 article for EMPIRE magazine. "Maybe it could be a metaphor for the relationship between Indy and his dad? Indy sets out for the Grail but ends up closing the distance between him and his father. I could relate to that emotionally because I had experienced something similar with my own father."

By the time Sean Connery had signed on to play Henry Jones, the metaphor had reached even more levels, as it was Spielberg expressing his desire to do "something like James Bond" that lead Beard 1 to pitch the idea of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" to Beard 2. In a very real sense, Bond really was Jones' father already, so the teaming couldn't have felt more perfect.

This is the mostly strangely divisive film in the series, in that there is a very devoted crowd who considers it to be the best of the lot due to the level of heart, humor and depth that comes from the introduction of Henry Jones and the back story of Henry Jones, Jr, and also a very vocal internet crowd that considered it to be the worst for the very same reasons (that crowd now has moved on to trashing "Crystal Skull."). Some feel that the mystique of the character was traded in for schmaltz, and that we lost Indy when we learned too much about him. It's a sentiment I can't agree with, but one I have reluctant grown to not entirely dismiss as totally without merit. There is an element of the iconic legend that was created in "Raiders" that is undermined by the humanity brought to Indy in this film (and eventually, it would come full circle as James Bond would reach the same highly debated crossroads in my favorite film in that series, "Skyfall."). For me personally, not only is "Last  Crusade" a great deal of fun, but as I watched it over and over again through the years, I learned to understand my father's relationship with his father, and how that relationship affected my relationship with my father. If I have to choose between that kind of insight and the machismo of the roguish, two fisted man of action and mystery, it's a very easy decision to make (and for the record, I actually like "Crystal Skull", too.).

In contrast to "Hook", this sometimes very non-Spielbergian Spielberg film covers the terrible moment when a child is forced to realize that his father can't fly. Leonardo Dicaprio and Christopher Walken gave two of the best performances of their careers as a young boy and the father he hero worships, only to lose him, not to death, but to something that for young Frank, Jr (and perhaps to Spielberg) is even worse: divorce. As the years pass, young Frank reaches his low point when he realizes the old man, the guy who knew it all, the man he could come to for anything, has given up on himself and is living vicariously through his son, which would be one thing if his son was something to be proud of, but as he sees the first sign of that old twinkle in Frank, Sr's eyes as he imagines the adventures his boy is living out as he lives a series of lies, the son must confront the harsh reality that his life has been merely a facade for far longer than he ever suspected.

5. THE PATRIOT (2000)

When director/producer team Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin were unable to get their old standby, David Arnold, to compose the music for their epic story of the American revolution, they were forced to settle for some guy named John Williams, who had built up a pretty decent resume in his own right. Truthfully, upon initial viewing, I pretty much hated this film. I'd been a big fan of the escapist entertainment of "Independence Day," and naively thought that Emmerich may well be the next Spielberg, and I went into this movie with ridiculously high expectations.
It was years later when my dad asked me if I'd seen "The Patriot", as he had just viewed it with his sister and brother in law, that I first starting considering giving it a second chance. He had quite enjoyed it, and wanted to talk about it, and quite honestly the words "my dad enjoyed it" and "wanted to talk" were not words I had always found coming naturally, especially in those years.

He had been surprised and emotionally moved by the twist that the patriarch, Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) had lived through the whole film while his two oldest sons had perished, and that the father was faced with carrying on his own sons' legacy. Now, that meant nothing to me as I watched it in the theater, but as my own father expressed how hard that struck him, and I knew he was struggling with the weight of facing the approaching death of the man who had raised him, and whom he had at times inwardly resented but always idolized, this real life war veteran asking for my thoughts on the story of a man who felt he'd failed his sons and thus failed his entire existence, but still must find the strength to go on . . . let's just say I couldn't brush that off as easily anymore, no matter many how laugh out loud corny moments like Gibson asking Joely Richardson "May I sit here?" and her replying with "It's a free country. At least . . . it will be" were, or how annoyed I was by the safe and (no pun intended) whitewashed portrayal that none of the heroes who lead the fight for independence and forged a nation were not slave owners. Oh, no. That was just the fat, obnoxious guy. Certainly not anyone important. (Think how much more intriguing this movie would have been if Gibson's larger than life fierce warrior and loving father had contrasted his seeming perfection with a belief that owning Africans was entirely different than oppressing white colonists.)

The movie ultimately plays well enough as a piece of entertainment, and the story of the pressures felt by fathers and sons to do each other proud is very, very real, and if it does nothing else, "The Patriot" does indeed capture this universal truth in a powerful way.


While the true protagonist of J.J. Abrams revival of the biggest franchise of them all is of course, Rey, the story of Han Solo and his son, Kylo Ren,is both moving and troubling. Like many, I sought out Kylo Ren figures and merchandise before the movie came out, but after watching him kill one of my childhood heroes, I almost wanted to throw all of that in the trash. Of course they were fictional characters,but Han Solo is not only one of the most beloved fictional characters of my generation, but in this movie, with his gray hair, crooked smile and his tendency to use gruffness to hide the fact that he was constantly beating himself up for his perceived failures in life, he reminded me a lot of my own father. As such, watching his son kill him was not easy. But on repeat viewing, I've developed a sense of sad pity for young Ben Solo; his hurt and confusion at the feeling that his parents sent him away when he needed them most, and finally his resentment at the realization that while both he and Rey feel that they never had a father figure, she finally found one in the very same person he believes failed to be one for his own son. If the sequence where father and son face each other down, look at each other eye to eye and for just a moment, actually connect before the son makes the worst possible decision, and the love conveyed in Harrison Ford's as he strokes his son's face and we see his desire to say "I'm sorry" even though he's the one who literally been skewered through the heart (or very near it), is the essence of the pain and anguish that children and parents can put each other through, Rey's resolve to carry on and honor the man she looked up to is the essence the respect and love that can also be a testament to that bond.  

7. THE TERMINAL (2004)

One of Spielberg and Williams' most underrated films (Williams score is a light, whimsical and heartfelt triumph), this one deals with a concept that really resonates with me: trying to keep our parents alive through keeping their hopes and dreams alive. Tom Hanks' Viktor Navorski travels from Eastern Europe to New York only to be stuck living in an airport, and all just to finish his father's autograph collection. A touching, funny, delightful and poignant film, and a personal favorite.


These two films have more in common than just Spielberg, Williams and visitors from another world. In both, Spielberg examines the theme of a father losing the respect and trust of his children. While Richard Dreyfuss' Roy Neary is a seemingly good father who tries hard but simply can't connect with his family, Tom Cruise's Ray Ferrier is part time parent whose kids call him by his first name. 

Where Roy loses the respect he has earned, as his oldest son declares that Roy has "gone crazy," and and his youngest daughter asks "are you going to yell at us again?",  Ray is so self absorbed that he doesn't even realize just how little his children think of him until little Rachel (Dakota Fanning" demands of her brother "Who will take care of me if you're gone?" (The look on Cruise's face at that moment is one of the finest bits of acting of his entire career.).
Spielberg stated in the early '90's that after becoming a parent himself, he could never make a movie that ended the way "Close Encounters" did, and the stark contrast between Roy's sad decision to escape the confines of them home where he is tied down by a lack of love and respect from his family by going off into space and Ray's fierce determination to protect his kids and his eventual earning of their admiration for staying with them and risking his life for them plays almost like an apology.

9. THE COWBOYS (1972)

John Wayne was a  revered figure in my family when I was young, and his movies were beloved by my father and grandfather, so much so that I'm developing a feature based around it.

As one John W was winding down his period as a King of the Silver Screen, another was just beginning his, and their paths crossed in "The Cowboys." William's' rousing score
makes for one of the biggest highlights of the story of an aging rancher, Will Anderson (Wayne) who is forced to use school boys as replacement drovers for his 400-mile cattle drive. This is a "father figure" story, as the boys all learn all come together and grow into young men under Anderson's tutelage.

10. WILLOW (1988)

When I think of this movie, I think of many things, but I usually start by trying not to think of the time I met Billy Barty when I was a child, and the look of horror on my mother's face when I said to him "I wanna be a midget when I grow up!" (Mr. Barty was very good humored and took it as a compliment, but to this day I sometimes wonder if that incident is why I'm only 5"4.).

"Willow" is a different kind of Father's Day movie. It's for those of us who have embraced the responsibility, the sense of purpose, and the boundless love of being being a parent to a little one who isn't our own. When Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) decides to step up and be responsible for little Elora Danan, he does so initially because no one else will, but we see more than once that when he has the chance to be relieved of the burden, he doesn't want to be. And when he finally has to let her go and return to his own life, he knows a part of him is lost. As a non parent who has felt the parental bond as strongly as it can be felt, I relate the Willow now in a way I didn't so many years ago, though I can't t help think wonder if the emotion of the bond between Willow and the child would have played better if the character wasn't already a father. Ultimately, I think it works as a representation that a parent's love for their other children is not replaced by the presence of a new baby, as Willow expresses his desire to get back home to "the bobbins" often enough, and he greets them with great joy and a full heart upon his return. Yes, this movie is of course just George Lucas doodling a thinly vieled take on a story that would finally come to the big screen in it's true form directed by Peter Jackson, but director Ron Howard and and a talented cast (this remains one of Val Kilmer's most enjoyable leading roles) and crew make it a rollicking good time.

The Bearded Trio - The Site For Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and John Williams




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