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By Patricia McIvor
You can spot a Christmas movie a mile away—if “Christmas” isn’t already in the title, the green and red font usually gives it away—but Thanksgiving movies are a little harder to pick out. With the notable exception of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973), it’s difficult to find a Thanksgiving movie that’s about Thanksgiving. There are comedies like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987) and Son-in-Law (1993), which mine the humor from unexpected or unwanted company arriving for Thanksgiving, and a few family dramas that use the holiday as a catalyst for maximum interpersonal conflict. If you want a movie that explores the meaning of the holiday and its special place in American culture, you need to revisit Scent of a Woman (1992).
Best known for Al Pacino’s vibrant performance as blind Lt. Colonel Frank Slade, Scent of a Woman follows a pair of loners who forge a difficult but strong bond over the long holiday weekend. Prep school scholarship student Charlie (Chris O’Donnell) can’t afford to fly home for the holiday, and so takes a job as an aide for Lt. Colonel Slade (Pacino). Expecting a quiet weekend watching television and preparing meals, Charlie instead finds himself whisked away to New York City, where he accompanies the Colonel as he indulges his senses with exceptional food, wine, and women.
Besides being set during the long Thanksgiving weekend, the film also uses the holiday as a way of bringing together our odd couple; both Charlie and the Colonel are expecting to spend Thanksgiving alone, until the Colonel’s niece hires Charlie as the Colonel’s aide. The film also includes a Thanksgiving dinner scene, as the Colonel brings Charlie to his brother’s house for a truly uncomfortable meal that brings out the worst in everyone. However, the film best explores the meaning and spirit of Thanksgiving during the rest of the weekend, as Charlie and the Colonel spend time together.
After a pretty rough start, Charlie and the Colonel eventually connect as they see the best and worst of each other over the course of the weekend. Charlie is indecisive and clumsy with regards to the Colonel’s blindness, but ultimately respects how the Colonel’s past has shaped his unique point of view. Similarly, the Colonel blows hot and cold with the intensity and capriciousness of our own New England weather, but perceives Charlie’s character and provides some much-needed guidance as Charlie grapples with a problem at school. In the end, their intergenerational relationship is a model of the ideal outcome of a Thanksgiving weekend. When we sit down with multiple generations, conflicts are bound to arise as different values and worldviews clash; however, our differences should not preclude connection and communion over a shared meal.
After all, Thanksgiving, historically speaking, is all about overcoming differences to celebrate life. Our national myth of Thanksgiving features two distinct peoples—the Pilgrims and the Native Americans—sharing a meal to celebrate their survival and reaffirm their friendship. Scent of a Woman embraces that tradition by following two very different men coming together to celebrate the great things in life.
What movie will you watch after Thanksgiving dinner? Send me your stuffing recipes at firstname.lastname@example.org.