Monday, January 2, 2012

Movies with Corrin

When I was 17 years old, one of my closest friends died due to injuries he sustained in a car accident.  On Christmas evening 2002, he was the passenger in a car that hit a patch of ice before crashing into a telephone pole. After lying in a coma for several days, he died a few hours into the year 2003. His name was Corrin Travis, he was 16 years old.

The news of Corrin’s accident and resulting death were sudden, shocking, and brutal. It’s something that I’ve never, in the literal sense, fully “gotten over,” but rather, come to accept. And rather than harp on the pain of his passing, I’d like to take this time, the day after the ninth anniversary of his death, to celebrate a small part of his life.

Corrin and I had a lot of things in common. We liked to make other people laugh, we enjoyed privately discussing the aesthetics of women, we played soccer, we boxed in basements, we listened to Eminem – but the most significant trait we shared, it may not surprise, was our love of film.

We talked endlessly about movies – what we’d seen, what we’d hope to see, what we liked, what we hated. We talked about going to film school, writing, directing – going for it.

Because my parents started me in school late, I’ve always been older than my friends. I was the first to get a job, first to get my license, and most notably, the first to get a car. Soon after I bought my car, Corrin and I started a tradition of going to the movies every Tuesday after school. It started as a coincidence, a kind of, Oh look, this is the third Tuesday in a row we’ve gone to the movies, and it quickly resulted in a die hard tradition. This went on for months, and we loved every minute of it.
Now, the movies Corrin and I saw on those Tuesdays were, by and large, utter crap. We’re talking Ecks vs. Sever, Knockaround Guys, The Four Feathers – garbage. And although we spent the majority of our post-movie discussions bitching and moaning about how bad the movies were, I realize now that the movies we saw weren’t nearly as important as the fact that we saw them.

I cherished those Tuesdays. I looked forward to them every week. When we deviated from the tradition, it was for good reason, like going on Friday instead of Tuesday, which was the case on December 20, 2002. Hours after being released from school for winter break, Corrin, myself, and my friend Miguel, saw Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. After, we went to IHOP (I grew up in a small, rural area, for a bunch of teenagers at 11 p.m. on a Friday, IHOP was often as good as it got) and talked about Scorsese’s filmography, DiCaprio’s bad acting, the trailer for Tarantino’s new kung-fu flick, and so on. It was the last movie we ever saw together, but that’s not really what I want to talk about.
It’s funny, because in hindsight, the steps of the grieving process are freakishly accurate. After Corrin’s death, my denial of my feelings manifested itself in frequent bouts of silence, my anger was evident in the fights I got into, I bargained my pain for the love of a woman, only to be crushed later, I sank in and out of mild depression for months, and, finally, accepted what had happened.

These steps aren’t necessarily set in stone as the popular acronym DABDA suggests; sometimes one can be depressed, then angry, then in denial, and so on. And, if you’re lucky, a hint of acceptance can shine through, even before you’re really ready for it.
In January of 2003, I saw a film called Antwone Fisher that quite literally changed my outlook on life. The film tells the true story of an orphaned kid from Cleveland who, after suffering years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse by his foster family, joins the Navy as a means of escape. While in the Navy, Antwone’s unresolved demons from his childhood manifest themselves with recurring episodes of sudden anger and violence. He’s forced to see a psychiatrist who, slowly but surely, helps him accept what he’s been through.

Now, I wasn’t abused as a child, so the similarities I find in my story and Antwone Fisher’s may seem opaque at best.  But for some reason, while sitting in that movie theater, a connection was made. When Antwone (Derek Luke) screams at his doctor (played by Denzel Washington, who also directed the film) in front of a few other patients, it was as if I was screaming for help. When Antwone confronts his foster mother, it was as if I was confronting my troubles. And when he reconnects with his family, thereby accepting his pain, it was as if my pain was accepted, if not for a passing moment.
Although these connections weren’t fully realized immediately, the first time I saw Antwone Fisher remains the most memorable, significant movie-watching experience I’ve ever had. When I discuss the film with friends, they’re often shocked by my immense praise. After calling the film one of the top five movies of the 2000s, people were confounded, and for good reason. From an outsider’s perspective, there isn’t anything particularly fascinating about the picture. A subplot involving Washington and his wife is useless, and the film suffers from some technical glitches that a first time director may not anticipate, but that doesn’t matter to me. Until right now, when people asked why I like Antwone Fisher so much, I usually just shrug it off, and mumble something to the effect of, I like it because I like it.

I like it because it reminds me of my friend. It reminds me of youth, and of loss. It helps me acknowledge the fact that, no matter how bad I have it, someone has it worse. As was, and I'm sure still is, the case for Corrin’s mother, Lynne, who remains a dear friend of mine, and who this post is dedicated to. What she was suffering through in January of 2003 is incomparable to how I felt. Antwone Fisher put that in perspective for me.
Weeks after I first saw the film, I got to meet the real Antwone Fisher at a book signing in Cleveland. It was a historic moment in my life, one that I will never forget.  But the most significant part of the event wasn’t meeting a man, or shaking his hand, or thanking him for telling his story.  It was during the drive home that I was struck with something rather profound. I realized that none of this would have happened – loving the film so much, driving to Cleveland, meeting the real man – had Corrin still been alive. But he was gone, so here I was. And, for the briefest of moments, the pain left me, and I was able to accept what had happened.

I had a lot more struggling to go through, but right then in the car, I realized it was okay to believe that everything was going to be all right. 
Corrin, circa 2002


  1. Thank you. I remember he spend most of the 8th grade trying to convince of that the Matrix mirrors the story of Christ. Everytime I watch it now I think of those conversations. This was a perfect tribute to such a great guy!

  2. Alex...thank you for writing this. Your honesty and expressiveness is a gift. Having you as my son is an incredible honor.

  3. Thanks Bro:
    I'm so glad you have constantly honored Corrin's life. He would be proud of your work.
    I will never forget that night we saw GONY...

  4. @"C" Thanks Cassie! Oh god, I completely forgot about those Matrix rants. A one of a kind guy.

  5. @Mark Thanks, pops. Thank you beyond words.

  6. @Miguel Ha, how long did we stay in that IHOP? Whatta night...

  7. That was a very beautiful and touching post! Thanks for sharing it with us, Alex!

  8. Charlie & Daphne BrownJanuary 3, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    Alex, thank you for always honouring our beloved Grandson, Corrin- he is still a big part of our life and we miss him - but are now able to remember all the good times we had and the joy he brought to our lives - I see him smiling, as he reads your blog! Bless you!'

  9. @Charlie & Daphne Thanks so much for your kind words, that's a really unique, comforting feeling - that he's looking down, smiling.

  10. Aww, Alex. That is an amazing and touching tribute to Corrin,, your friendship with him and the impact of him on your life. Beautifully done. I am so proud of you, as always.

  11. Thanks for sharing. A well-written, thoughtful and loving post. Take care and all the best!

  12. What an amazing story! I shared a similar relationship toward cinema with my brother when we were much younger. We don't really watch movies together now but we used to watch a lot of videos when we were kids. Thanks for reminding me of such great memories!

    So few of us get to experience a true love and understanding of great cinema at such a young age, and even fewer have someone to share that with.

  13. @Tyler Thanks Tyler, I completely agree with you - being able to share a passion of film with someone else really is a special thing.

  14. My daughter Vanessa died at 16 in a car accident and October 30 will be seven years. She too loved films as I do and we shared many. I loved Antwone Fisher too. So touching and powerful. I often think about him and his strength to have his life made into a movie. How lucky you were to meet him and take away such a deep connection to your own loss. The night Vanessa died I was at a movie with close friends one being an actress. I will never forget that afternoon my daughter Vanessa showed me how to operate our DVR so I could record movies I like. My love of films started with Mary Poppins, still my favorite but I graduated on college to foreign films and regularly attend film festivals like Sundance, TriBeCa, Palm Springs and DC film festival. My dear friend Invited me after my daughter died to the Palm film festival, my first 6 years ago. Since then we see about 1 film at week together. It is a bonding experience we share and enjoy dissecting the films and our lives afterwards with lunch or dinner. Thank you for pointing out how special these film buddies are and how our lives are affected by our friends and losses. By the way I am a friend of Julie F. I hope to meet you some day and go to a favorite film venue with you both.

    1. Gail, Julie has told me a lot about you, I cannot wait to meet up and talk about films in a downtown cafe after we've caught an indie at E Street.

      Now, I want to thank you for sharing such a personal story here. It was really moving, and the way you fused your love of film into it was quite profound. So thank you.

      That's so cool that you travel the country attending various film festivals. I've been to Sundance once, and had the time of my life. I'd love to hit up TIFF next year. Or even TriBeCa, or, really, anything.

      Thanks again for your kind comment, hope to meet you soon!

  15. I'm late to this party. Thanks so much for sending me the link. This is a beautiful post, as others have said, and the paragraphs immediately before and after the Antwone Fisher signing photo strike me as particularly powerful.

    I loved reading about the way you've integrated your relationship with Corrin into your life experiences and your love for film. Gail (the commenter above) did very much the same thing. I don't know how anyone truly makes sense out of a tragedy like this, but it seems you've gotten close. I can imagine you at film festival, years from now, watching the premiere of a movie you've created and dedicated to Corrin in some way.

    1. Thanks so much for coming over to this post and commenting. I really appreciate your kind words about those two paragraphs specifically. It's the strangest thing, I vividly remember writing this, and the best way to describe those paragraphs is that they wrote themselves. You type, then look up, and there they are. So odd when that happens.

      Your final sentence really made me smile. I actually dedicated my first "serious" film to Corrin, not because the content of the movie had anything to do with him, but the act in making the movie definitely did, in some odd way.

      I wish I had the courage to put that movie online, but I just can't. The acting is quite good, but the style is so raw, or rather, amateurish. Maybe someday.

      Either way, thanks so much for reading!

    2. I'm glad you told me that -- I actually thought about the last sentence of my comment for several minutes, wondering whether it was the right thing to say. KWIM? I guess it was.

      I hope I get the opportunity to see that film. Not to discuss and critique it or anything but just to see what you did there. ;-) I totally get why you don't want to put it online though. It would be like my disseminating one of my unpublished novels. I may choose to share bits with select people, at certain times. But I would never put it out in public. Ain't gonna happen. Thanks again for showing me the link.

    3. Not only was it the right thing to say, but you actually predicted something that's already happened, which is cool :)

      Since Earrings, a lot of people have showed interest in Full Circle, specifically for the reasons you mentioned. So, maybe I'll give it a post-production remastering (tweak the sound, color correction, etc) and throw it online some day.

      Glad you know what I mean though. But hey, do you have any published novels out there? I'd love to read them!

    4. Published novels? No. Maybe someday. :-)