I recently watched the movie Due Date and it quickly became apparent that it was just an updated version of the John Hughes classic Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. My idea was to write about why it was necessary for certain things to be changed in order to make the movie more relevant to the 21st century. However, as I re-watched Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for research I noticed something more intriguing about the movie, which could also be applied to Due Date. This new revelation is that John Candy’s character doesn’t actually exist and he is merely a figment of Steve Martin’s character’s imagination; a Tyler Durden to Ed Norton.
The start of the film we see Martin attempting to get a cab when he trips over a large trunk. We see no one around. As he attempts to buy a cab off another guy, we vaguely see someone else steal the cab. We can’t make out this man for sure. This is Martin’s mind beginning to create the alter ego. Fully giving him a face when he chases the now stolen cab and opens the door, but it’s brief and disappears until Martin’s stress level rises again at the airport, and a time when Martin’s mind isn’t preoccupied.
Of all the people around these characters in the New York airport, on the plane, and in the Wichita airport, these two only talk to each other. Why? Candy seems like an out-going guy who would chat up anyone, but keeps to himself until Martin arrives, and still doesn’t turn to anyone else when it’s obvious that Martin has no interest in a damn thing Candy has to say. Most people will pick up on that and get the hint (except for the obnoxious woman in my office).
Then there’s the way Candy always seems to find his way back into Martin’s life. Think about something you try to forget about and the way you can never manage to forget about it. You may be distracted for awhile as you are focused on something else, but eventually it creeps back to the forefront of your mind. Now, consider how often that thought is about another person.
I think the most compelling argument is the money issue. It appears that Martin pays for everything, except when Candy is able to sell some shower curtain rings as earrings and make a little bit. There is even a shot at the first hotel in Wichita where we see the shop keep go to run each of their cards but only runs Martins. Then there’s the thief who breaks into that room and steals the money. We only see him taking money from one wallet, yet the next day both Candy and Martin peer into their wallets to find them bone dry.
In Fight Club Ed Norton creates Tyler Durden partially because he has mental problems, but also because he needed an outlet for a pent up aspect of his hum-drum life. It can be easy to just write Martin off as just insane, but often in cases like this there is an underlying cause.
So what could be going on with Martin that he would create such a character and allow himself to be involved in such fucked situations?
I would wager there are several important things going on in Martin’s life. The first is his balance between family and work. In the Wichita airport Candy says to Martin, “Like your job, love your wife.” This is something Martin is struggling with. Spending a lot of time working, so much so that his daughter is able to tell just from the fact that he is calling that he is going to be delayed. Martian created Candy to help him realize the importance of his family life, and he created these situations and longer trip so that he could process and deal with all the thoughts he was wrestling with. Also Candy exists as a person Martin wishes he could be. At one point Martin mentions how Candy has a charmed life; and Candy mentions how he just goes with the flow. It’s not uncommon for a person to imagine the kind of person they want to be.
Another idea involves the shower curtain rings. There is a lot of talk about Candy’s career in selling shower curtain rings, but there is no pay off to that, no real point. So why keep bringing it up? I think it has something to do with the opening scene. Martin and his business associate are sitting in a board room while some apparent higher up looks over some plans or charts or something that a bit time boss would be looking at. So perhaps Martin is some sort of ad man and he’s been working on a campaign for shower curtain rings. The stress of this campaign has finally gotten to him and he starts to take it in this very odd direction. Now if you think about add campaigns would the idea of goofy, cross-country, shower curtain ring salesman be all that bizarre? So maybe Martin is on the plane trying to figure out a way to advertise shower curtain rings.
My third and final theory here is Martin is truly crazy. He has full blown delusional schizophrenia and is held up in a mental institute. He gets a day pass or something for Thanksgiving. His family is well aware of how bad he has it and is encouraged to just agree with him because it can be safer. So this whole story takes place as a narrative Martin is telling on a short trip from mental hospital to his home. This theory is a little further out there, and lacks real evidence. Though it does make the moment when his daughter says she is thankful her dad is coming home a lot more heart wrenching.
These ideas may be totally fucked, or I might be on to something. Either way it has made me appreciate the movie more than I did before. I used to find Martin so unbearable and Candy just too obnoxious, but this puts them in a new light that changes things. Also, it’s fun to imagine Martin is actually alone in a lot of these scenes. Like the hotel in Wichita, he steps out of the shower onto a soaked floor with nary a dry towel in sight, meaning that he took two showers, and inexplicably made a giant mess after the first one.
It’s even better when you apply this idea to Due Date and the end when Robert Downy Jr. is watching “Two and a Half Men” to see Zach Galifianakis. Is Zach actually on the show? Just what exactly is Downey seeing on the screen?
See ya on my road trip…
22 Apr 2011 Lee S. Hart