March Inductee: To Kill a Mockingbird‘s Atticus Fitch
April Inductee: Breakfast at Tiffanys‘ Holly Golightly
May Inductee: Star Wars‘ Darth Vader
As Played By Zach Braff
Garden State (2004)
“Yeah, the ellipsis, it’s dumb. It’s dumb. It’s an awful idea. I’m not gonna do it, okay? Cause like you said, this is it. This is life. And I’m in love with you… I think that’s the only thing I’ve ever really been sure of in my entire life. And I’m really messed up right now, and I got a whole lot of stuff I have to work out, but I don’t want to waste any more of my life without you in it. And I think I can do this. I mean, I want to. I have to, right?” – Andrew Largeman
Every once in a while, you will come across a movie where the character(s) just speak out to you. They might by going through something you have gone or are currently going through. Sometimes they simply remind you of yourself. Zach Braff’s Garden State contains such a character for me. Andrew Largeman (Braff) is a young man who is more than just disillusioned with life, his psychiatric father has him so medicated that he might as well be a zombie (early scenes suggest he’s more or less in a walking coma). Garden State is about Largeman’s return to the land of the living with the help of the angelic compulsive liar Samantha (Natalie Portman).
When we first meet Andrew, he’s a struggling actor working at a Vietnamese restaurant in Los Angeles. It can be easily seen that he’s not exactly with it, so much so that when he pulls up to work, he finds a gas nozzle still attached to his car. This is obviously not someone who’s “awake.” He receives a phone call from his father (he let the machine pick it up) as he lay listless on his white bed in his white room. His father informs him that his mother has passed away and that Andrew should come home. Reluctantly, Andrew returns home to New Jersey for the first time in nine years. Little does he know that it would change his life.
After his mother’s funeral (and avoiding his very angry father as much as possible), Andrew joins some of his old school friends for a party. Things get wild, but Andrew (after taking extacy) seems even more disoriented than ever, besides a moment during spin the bottle. While in the waiting room to see a neurologist about headaches, he meets a girl named Samantha. He’s immediately taken aback. She is a bit of a mystery to him. More on her later. We find out during his meeting with the neurologist, that Andrew has been on medication for as long as he could remember and that the drugs prescribed by his father is some very serious stuff. Andrew reveals that he has left all of his medication back in Los Angeles and is taking a “vacation” from them.
He begins to hang out with Samantha over the course of the next couple of days. She is everything he is not: fun and full of life (albeit a bit of liar about trivial things, though she “always feels bad” after telling a fib). As they spend more and more time together (and more time away from medication), you can see Andrew slowly come out of his shell. He’s starting to enjoy life again. More importantly he’s starting to feel. He would admit to Samantha that the saddest thing about his mother’s funeral was the fact he was so numb to it all, despite his attempts to try to experience the sadness he wanted to feel.
It is during some time spent with Samantha and some friends where he reveals the truth behind everything in his life. His mother was in a wheelchair because of him. When he was a kid, his parents were never happy, especially his mother. During a temper tantrum, Andrew pushed his mother. Unfortunately, the latch that kept the dishwasher door closed had broken and the door was wide open. His mother tripped over the door and hit her neck on the kitchen counter paralyzing her from the waist down. Eventually, he’s sent off to boarding school and then heads off to Hollywood (where his claim to fame is playing a mentally challenged quarterback on a television show), not to return until his mother’s death.
On the day before heading back to Los Angeles, Andrew and Samantha is taken on an adventure by Andrew’s friend Mark (Peter Sarsgaard). When he’s asked about the destination and the purpose of their quest, Mark can only say that it’s a surprise. Eventually, they all end up at a gorge to meet up with a geologist couple who also deals with jewelry. Mark deals to get a necklace. Being a gravedigger, Mark has access to the jewelry that’s supposed to be buried with the deceased. This necklace happens to have belonged to Andrew’s mother. This is a big moment for Andrew. The necklace brings back a memory of pure, unconditional love. The adventure itself has brought back Andrew from the living dead. His scream into the gorge (or the abyss as they call it), is the release he had been waiting a decade to have. Not to mention the first kiss he shares with Samantha.
The romance between Andrew and Samantha is at times as awkward as it is refreshing. Being as medicated as Andrew was, he really has no idea what to make of Samantha or of the feelings he begins to have about her. After telling her the story of how his mother ended up in a wheelchair, he asks her to tell him something positive. She admits to him that she has a little buzz from the beer that they’re drinking. He responds:
“I got a little buzz going…and I like you. So, there’s that. I guess I have that.”
This is Andrew not only admitting to having feelings for Samantha, but also the first feelings of any sort he’s had in a long, long time. While we don’t really get to know Samantha that well, we do know that she’s absolutely perfect. The kind of woman that could save anyone. The kind that we men all wish we hope to meet one day. She’s the driving force in bringing Andrew back to reality. The interesting thing is that he tries to run away from her initially under the guise of sorting things out in his head. He can’t go through with it and rushes to meet back with her. The first quote in this article is what he says to her. Neither of them know what they are going to do now, but they know they will be doing it together.
While his return to Samantha completes Andrew’s awakening, he first had to confront his father (played by the brilliant Ian Holm) about the past. His father is cold and distant, but that only covers a layer of intense anger toward Andrew. See, he blames Andrew for what happened to his wife and her eventual death. Andrew, meanwhile, places the blame on being a child and on the plastic latch that failed; it was simply an accident. This, too, is an important moment for both characters. Andrew tells his father to stop dreaming of a time in which the family was all happy (Andrew can’t remember such a time), and for them to work on just “being okay.” This is Andrew’s first attempt to reaching out to his father and it seems that they will be “okay” in the end.
Andrew Largeman isn’t a superhero. He doesn’t defend an African American man in the deep south. He doesn’t have extraordinary powers (or a really cool voice). He is you and me. Granted, he’s taken to the extreme via medication, but look in the mirror. How many of us are like Andrew? Alone and awkward, isolated and scared? How many of us just go through life, not really feeling emotions? If he can return from the depths of apathy after all he’s been through (and get an amazing girl while he’s at it), maybe we can, too.
For being one of the most relatable characters I have ever seen and one that gives me hope, I induct Andrew Largeman into my Hall of Fame.