Film: Cocoon (1985)
Tom Benedek (screenplay)
David Saperstein (story)
Don Ameche – Art
Wilford Brimley – Ben
Hume Cronyn – Joe
Jack Gilford – Bernie
Steve Gutenberg – Jack
Maureen Stapleton – Mary
Jessica Tandy – Alma
Brian Dennehy – Walter
Tahnee Welch -Kitty
By E Dagger from CruJonesSociety
Pre-screening memories: Cocoon is one of those weird movies that you suspect couldn’t get made today. It’s a science fiction movie featuring a group of senior citizens as its protagonists that deals with facing your own mortality vis-à-vis a spaceship that promises eternal life and health in exchange for never seeing your family or your home planet ever again. And it’s a comedy! Sounds like the total package of hilarity and a license to print money at the box office, am I right?
The truth is that this movie is indeed quite funny, and while most of the sexual innuendo eluded me as a child when I watched it the first time, there’s no denying the gravitational pull of the wily charms of Steve Guttenberg that made him an 80s icon. Since I wasn’t but 7 years old when I saw this movie the first time (my parents had taped it off Showtime), he was the character I could latch onto. Everyone else was too old, too stoic, or too much of a freaky, glowing apparition that made me uncomfortable. It was his warm smile and laidback attitude that grounded me in an otherwise strange movie that saw a woman take her skin off to become a floating, yellow ball of light, a bunch of senior citizens swim in a pool full of giant alien rocks, and a spaceship take a kid’s grandparents away forever. I had issues with this movie as a wee Dagger.
Post-screening memories: From 2002 to 2006 I consumed most of my movies the same way: Hungover watching TBS (or whatever channel) on a Sunday. Usually nothing came of this, but an innocent conversation between me and my writing partner (Lee S. Hart of CJS http://crujonessociety.com) started as a simple question – Would you get on the spaceship at the end forsaking life on earth for eternal health? – blossomed into a deep philosophical meditation about our views on life, religion, and eternity. Usually we were just waiting out last night’s Jagerbombs giggling at the hilariously racist antics of Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles.
But this time Cocoon spun us into territory we hadn’t anticipated as the movie represents (perhaps unintentionally so) a referendum on Judeo-Christian ideology and submits for discussion the question of eternity. The aliens are basically God, but not in any traditional theological form. So the question of whether or not to get on the ship presents additional problems in that by saying yes you’re basically shunning your Christian god and rolling the dice with these aliens. Even if you’re an atheist, your definition of forever has irrevocably changed because the aliens have proven life outside the confines of Earth.
We rolled around these topics and a ton more. When we finally founded our own website in 2008, it wasn’t until more than a year later that we revisited this topic and put it to our readers. Unfortunately no one responded, and we suspected it was because the depth with which you’d have to go to explain your answer either way delved a little more deeply than most people are comfortable with. Turns out, most people just didn’t really understand what we were asking.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it allowed Hart and myself to re-visit this movie and have this discussion one more time, http://crujonessociety.com/2009/04/27/monday-confessional-spaceship-ride/ which I encourage you to check to understand the depths to which I’ve thought about Cocoon before talking to our guest. I don’t think he knew what he was walking into when he agreed to do the podcast with us.
Cocoon works on several levels, and for that, it’s even better than I remember. It’s funny, it’s tender, it’s thought-provoking in unexpected ways, and it’s wholly unique. Rediscovering a movie in that way is a lot and realizing it’s way more than the weirdo alien movie you remember from your youth is a lot like finding a small piece of the eternal happiness the characters strive for when they get on the ship.
Download Natsukashi’s ‘Cocoon’ podcast
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Our featured guest: Tom Benedek
Benedek has written and rewritten screenplays for Robert Zemeckis, Lawrence Kasdan, Lili Fini Zanuck & Richard Zanuck, David Brown, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Sydney Pollack, Richard Rush, Harold Ramis, Lauren Schuler Donner & Richard Donner, Ray Stark, Brian Grazer, Working Title, Jersey Film, Chris Blackwell and many others. He wrote the screenplays for Cocoon, Free Willy and other films. He is a member of Writers Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He also teaches screenwriting at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor where he is a James Gindin Visiting Artist.
Benedek is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where he received a Bachelors Degree with Individual Concentration in Film. He studied film at L’Institut de Formation Cinematographique in Paris and is a graduate of the Director’s Program at the American Film Institute.
A photographer and sculptor, Benedek has exhibited at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica and elsewhere. Take a look at his work at tombenedek.com