The Iron Giant is Bigger Than That

Before Brad Bird made The Incredibles and Ratatouille, he made something else, a small movie, relatively, for Warner Bros. that might just be the best film he’ll ever make.

I’ll give you a hint. It’s The Iron Giant.

Brad Bird wrote the screenplay and directed the film. It was produced by Pete Townshend, of The Who, who had previously done his own rock opera based on the story. The story, The Iron Man, was written by Ted Hughes (1930-1998). Hughes, was was an English poet and children’s writer. He was British Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death.

Hughes was married from 1956-63 to American poet Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide in 1963 at the age of 30.

Why the history lesson? Because the story deserves it. Because I watched the movie last night, for the whateverth time, and it was different. It was different because it was the first time that I’ve watched it with Atticus since he’s been able to follow, enjoy, and become mesmerized by the storyline and his own overwhelming passion for anything robot.

It was the first time we talked about death, and killing, and it was the first time I saw him sad with regard to such things.

“It’s bad to kill,” they say in the film, “But it’s okay to die.”

They don’t paint it any more true or simple than that. It is moving. It moves 4-year-old boys full of wonder and innocence, and their hardened 36-year-old fathers, equally.

Ted Hughes wrote the story for his children, to help them cope with the sudden death of their mother; and he wrote it for us, to help answer questions that children are bound to have. Questions abound.

Yet, it is not all about the passing of things, but the creation as well. It is about being what you want to be, defining identity, not accepting it. It leans to the left in a world where right is often wrong, but it remains firmly centered. It is not about politics or religion. It is about life.

Ted Hughes is dead. Pete Townshend has troubles. Brad Bird is a young man, just hitting his stride, but he has already left his mark.

The climax of the movie revolves around choice and sacrifice. The Iron Giant does what he does, with the echo of these words rattling inside his metal head, “You are what you choose to be.”

That scene tears me up every time, and I hope that it always does. The day that I stop feeling in that moment is the day I’ve stopped choosing, and you can bury me then.

Just remember when that day comes, that it is okay to die.

In the meantime, I have choices to make, and a summer day made for prolonging innocence and watching my boys fill with wonder.

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