We have many Christmas movies and specials that mean a lot to us for different reasons. Thanksgiving, not so many. When I was in junior high school, I believe, one of the local T.V. stations (probably channel 43) showed two movies on Thanksgiving day for a number of years in a row: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Snow White and the Three Stooges. I have to admit I liked both of them (although the Stooges’ shorts were much more artistic than their full length movies). How they related specifically with Thanksgiving is anybody’s guess. A number of years later a movie with Thanksgiving as the driving force of its plot appeared.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles was introduced in 1987. It was written, produced, and directed by John Hughes, who specialized in movies that focused on human relationships. The plot revolves around two men who meet by chance due to travel difficulties as Thanksgiving approaches. Neal Page (Steve Martin) is a straight-laced business executive that is trying to get back to his home and family in Chicago in time for Thanksgiving. Del Griffith (John Candy) is a shower curtain ring salesman traveling for business. They are polar opposites in personality. Neal is serious, reserved and restrained in his actions. Del is a joker, open and talkative. After their initial travel plans fall through due to bad weather, Del promises Neal he will get him home in time for Thanksgiving, because he feels at least partially responsible for Neal’s predicament.
Their trip becomes a comedy of errors and hardships, traveling on, yes– planes, trains, and automobiles, and also trucks. Throughout the journey Del remains focused on his goal of trying to get Neal home to Chicago in time for his big family Thanksgiving dinner. Neal also remains focused on his goal of trying to get home in time for his big family Thanksgiving dinner. Along the way Neal changes. He has to move out of his comfort zone. He has to learn to “fly by the seat of his pants,” so to speak. He has to adjust to things outside of his control, which seems foreign to him. He learns that he has to accept Del for who he is– he can’t change him to be the way he would like him to be. He also learns to laugh.
Eventually Del does get Neal back to Chicago on Thanksgiving day. He will make it in time for dinner. As the two men part ways on the platform of the El in Chicago they both appreciate what they have been through. The change in Neal becomes apparent as he rides on the train, reflecting on the past few days. As he remembers events and conversations his mind turns away from himself and toward Del. He returns back to the station where he got on the train and finds Del sitting in the station alone. When he asks why he is there he learns that Del’s wife had passed away 8 years ago and that he is alone and homeless. He takes Del home with him, so that his new friend can share Thanksgiving with his family.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4, CSB)
It would have been easy for Neal Page to continue home on the train, and forget about Del Griffith. The experiences of the past few days could have been a lost exercise in frustration. Instead they turned out to be a lesson in humility brought about from considering another man’s situation instead of his own. He gained a true friend.
Although Planes, Trains and Automobiles doesn’t quote Scripture and can’t really be considered a Christian movie, it has at its heart the message of Philippians 2:3-4. Del always seemed genuinely concerned for Neal’s welfare. For the majority of the journey Neal was oblivious to Del’s needs. His lesson in turning his mind to someone else rather than himself is a reminder that each of us needs from time to time. Pastor James’ emphasis the past month or two has been on considering others and being in harmony. Philippians 2 at its core emphasizes considering others and working together. From beginning to end, so does Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Even a Thanksgiving comedy movie can serve as a positive example, and lead us to remember Scripture!
I have attached a clip of the ending of the movie. It is about 7 minutes in length. If you have enough time, please watch.
Take heart and be encouraged!