Big (1988)


“We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing!” —Benjamin Franklin

I don’t remember my first impressions of the movie Big, but I certainly remember what stage of life I was in when this Tom Hanks classic came to my attention. Let’s just say I was in my tweens…probably the same age as Josh Baskin, the young protagonist who wishes to be “big” and wakes up in a man’s body. A friend recommended it, I thought it sounded funny, so I walked down to the local Dillons store and got it from their VHS rental service.

This library of VHS tapes was tucked away in a small corner at the back of the store. It was run by an older woman with red hair whose name escapes me. It was same place I visited at the break of dawn on November 7, 2005 to buy a DVD of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because I was afraid they were going to run out. Now I realize that no one liked that movie anyway. Oy vey, the thought of that little video store is bringing back too many memories and emotions. I’ll stop now.

I was going to a different friend’s house for a sleepover that night, and I decided to bring Big along with me. His mom read the synopsis on the back of the case and concluded that it probably had too much sex stuff in it, so we couldn’t watch it. The fact that the rental service put additional stickers on the case that said “PG”—the scarlet letter of movies I wanted to watch when I was eleven years old—did not help. (My friends mom was right, by the way. Now I am a 23-year-old man and I still blush at some of the dialogue in Big.)

It’s probably not much of a spoiler to say that Tom Hanks’ older version of Josh learns that childhood is something you don’t want to skip; it’s a very special and important part of our lives. When I first saw Big, I loved it because it prods younger audiences to imagine what it would be like to immediately have all the perks that come with adulthood. However, Big is one of those movies that I have a different appreciation for as I get older. It makes me realize that the “mundane” routines of my childhood were actually priceless experiences I’ll never get back…but I can keep them fresh with that evergreen memory preserver called nostalgia.

Some examples that come to mind are frustrations with dial-up internet, holding up the antenna to get a good signal for PBS Kids, and browsing the aisles of Blockbuster Video. Most of those things have either evolved or gone away entirely. I mean, there are now only about 50 Blockbuster Video stores left on planet earth. A decade ago that would have been incomprehensible.

While it could be depressing to think about how time zips by, it doesn’t have to be that way. Big‘s antagonist Paul, an adult who has succumbed to the rat race, asks “Do you have to play with everything?” The answer is yes, you do. You must view the world with the childlike wonder of a Josh Baskin to look back on your life and know that you thoroughly enjoyed it.

If only life had a rewind button.