- 19 Feb 20
Tom Hanks excels in celebration of empathy
It seems unwise to have uncritical faith in any public figure – and yet we cling on, because faith and hope in people is all we have.
Plus, we will always have sublime exceptions; paragons of pure decency and joy. We will always have Tom Hanks.
Hanks plays Fred Rogers, the sometimes unnervingly serene, endlessly patient, boundlessly empathetic children’s television presenter who – not unlike Hanks – became an American institution. In living rooms every weekday, ever loving, ever honest, ever encouraging, he was a constant for generations of children. He was America’s Dad.
Based on writer Tom Junod, Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, a journalist estranged from his own Dad. Cynical and emotionally walled, Lloyd has become known for scathing articles, his writing fuelled more by the desire to justify his disillusionment with humanity rather than a desire to serve it. When Lloyd is assigned to do a short profile of Fred Rogers for Esquire’s ‘Hero’ issue, his wife pleads with him, “Please don’t ruin my childhood.”
What Lloyd discovers is that Fred Rogers’ transcendent power is connecting people with their childhoods; the joy, the innocence, the curiosity – and also the formative wounds that follow them into adulthood. Empathy, director Marianne Heller asserts – here and in all her films – isn’t made less genuine if it requires work. It’s made more admirable and accessible in its humanity. Because we can all do the work. We can all be better. We can all prove that faith in people is founded.