I recently watched two comedies that have as their premise a fairly familiar plot line but each takes it in unexpected directions. In both a group of people who know each other well get together for a meal and then something triggers increasingly heated exchanges during which secrets and long-suppressed resentments are revealed in anger as people strike back at those whom they secretly dislike or think have hurt them.
In the first, a German film How About Adolf? (2018) five people consisting of a married couple, the wife’s brother and pregnant sister-in-law, and a very close family friend from her childhood get together for dinner and the trigger for the outbursts is when her brother says that he and his wife have decided to name their soon-to-be-born son Adolf. An uproar ensues in which the others try to argue him out of an idea that they think is utterly outrageous. The father-to-be defends the choice and counters by arguing that a name should not be banished just because one bad person happened to have it and that it is time to reclaim the name. He says that it is not as if his first name caused Hitler’s behavior after all. If one took the banishment argument seriously, he says, why stop with just Adolf? Why not make a list of all the first names that are associated with mass murderers, serial killers, and other undesirables and forbid people from using them? And what if Hitler’s first name had happened to be something very common and bland such as Hans? Or a name that belonged to some of the most illustrious figures in history such as Wolfgang? Or a variant such as Adolph? Would the same banishment rule apply? It soon becomes clear that the problems in the group run deeper than with the name Adolf.
Here’s the trailer.
In the American film It’s a Disaster (2013), five couples meet for their monthly brunch but after four of them arrive, their power goes out and a neighbor arrives to tell them that the city has been subjected to a terrorist attack, apparently involving the release of nerve gas, and that everyone is urged to seal up their homes, hunker down, and not go outside. As time goes by and no all clear is given, they think that they are all going to die. Tensions rise and antagonisms and resentments bubble to the surface and damaging secrets are revealed.
Here’s the trailer.
I have never actually been at any small gathering of family or friends that have gone off the rails like these two films depict, and I wonder whether real people placed in similar situations would react that way, with the rhetoric rapidly escalating. Of course, these are films and the writers do this to generate the conflict that drives the story forward. But in real life, how often does this happen? If for some reason, someone said something that seemed to antagonize someone else, wouldn’t somebody in the group try to act as a peacemaker and calm things down before things got out of hand?
In the US at least, a common joke is that the annual Thanksgiving family get-togethers produce this kind of conflict as family members who sometimes detest each other are forced to spend a lot of time together. I do not know how much this reflects reality but if true, then people taking Anthony Fauci’s advice and skipping such gatherings this year to prevent the spread of covid-19 may result in the most conflict-free Thanksgiving ever.