From Chuck Klosterman's 2003 "low culture manifesto," Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs:
In this same scene, Darth Vader tells Skywalker he has to make a decision: He can keep fighting a war he will probably lose, or he can compromise his ethics and succeed wildly. Many young adults face a similar decision after college, and those seen as "responsible" inevitably choose the latter path. However, an eight-year-old would never sell out. Little kids will always take the righteous option.
And what's intriguing about Gen Xers is they never really wavered from that decision. Luke's quandary in The Empire Strikes Back is exactly like the situation facing Winona Ryder in 1994's Reality Bites: Should she stick with the nice, sensible guy who treats her well (Ben Stiller), or should she roll the dice with the frustratring boho bozo who treats her like crap (Ethan Hawke)? For a detached adult, that answer seems obvious; for people who were twenty-one when this movie came out, the answer was just as obvious but completely different. As we all know, Winona went with Hawke. She had to. When Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert reviewed Reality Bites, I recall them complaining that Ryder picked the wrong guy; as far as I could tell, choosing the wrong guy was the whole point.
You don't often see Reality Bites mentioned as an important (or even as a particularly good) film, but it grows more seminal with every passing year. When it was originally released, all its Gap jokes and AIDS fears and Lisa Loeb songs merely seemed like marketing strategies and ephemeral stabs at insight. However, it's amazing how one film so completely captured every hyperconventional ideal of such a short-lived era; Reality Bites is a period piece in the best sense of the term.
And in the same way I have a special place in my heart for the first film I saw inside a movie house, I reserve a special place in my consciousness for the first film so unabashedly directed toward the condition of my own life. I was graduating from college the spring Reality Bites was released, and -- though it didn't necessarily seem like a movie about me -- it was clearly a movie for me.
Eighteen months earlier, everyone I knew had see Cameron Crowe's Singles, which we intially viewed as a youth movie. When we went back and rented Singles in the summer of 1994, I was suddenly struck by how old its cast seemed. I mean, they had full-time jobs and wanted to get married and have babies. Singles was just a normal romantic comedy that happened to have Soundgarden on the soundtrack. Reality Bites was an equally mediocre movie, but it validated a lot of mediocre lives, most notably my own.
As I stated earlier, all the cliches about Gen Xers were true -- but the point everyone failed to make was that our whole demographic was of comprised of cynical optimists. Whenever my circa-1993 friends and I would sit around and discuss the future, there was always the omnipresent sentiment that the world was on the decline, but we were somehow destined to succeed individually. Everyone felt they would somehow be the exception within an otherwide grim universe.
This is why Ryder had to pick Hawke. Winona made the kind of romantic decision most people my age would have made in 1994: She pursued a path that was difficult and depressing, and she did so because it showed the slightest potential for transcendence. Not coincidentally, this is also the Jedi's path. Adventure? Excitement? The Jedi craves not these things. However, he does crave something greater than the bloodless existence of his father. Quite simply, Winona Ryder is Luke Skywalker, only with a better haircut and a killer rack.
Tags: Chuck Klosterman, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs