Living and Running in McFarland USA

McFarland USA Running Screenshot

I was on a blistering, personal best pace through the first 9 days of February, covering 33 miles in that short time before my body said, in no uncertain terms, like a baby swatting away a spoonful of pureed sweet potato, “enough.”

Grand plans were hatched in my mind, ambitious plans to run the ups and downs of the Monterery Peninsula and of San Francisco later on in the month, so I shut it down until then, smartly it would seem, to give my still-too-large frame time to reconcile this unusual brand of stress I am putting on it in a quest to virtually pound away 750 miles in 2015. Those hilly plans, however, burned in a fire that began in my thighs. The suspected arsonist is still on the run and I’m having a damn hard time matching his pace.

It took until the middle of this week, nearly 7 days since my last run (forgive me father for it has been…), a tiresome, mostly flat 5K affair from my San Fran hotel to AT&T Park and back, before I sauntered into my local gym. I arrived in the dark of night with a belly full of eggs and toast, breakfast for dinner again, not my ideal physical fitness scenario, but it happened — a positive sign after a lengthy layoff — so I took it without comment from my internal self-defeatist. Still, I felt as though I was going to need external assistance, a boost from someplace new, to keep at it during this restart. I think I had a beat on exactly the right motivation, in the dark of a movie theater on a mid-week day.

I went to see McFarland USA yesterday afternoon as a way of psyching myself up to continue what I’d restarted on Wednesday night, with a decent-enough 3 miles, and kept going into Thursday morning with a 4-miler at 10 minutes per. Not lightspeed but about the best I can do for anything above two miles. It is, after all, a movie about running. But hot damn, turns out McFarland USA is a movie about so much more than that.

Two hours later, I exited the theater in tears and sat quietly in my car for 15 minutes trying to process the fragments of fatherly emotions and widescreen cultural dissonance I’d just witnessed. McFarland USA isn’t a perfect film — I found Kevin Costner’s Jim White too flat for large chunks of the performance — but McFarland USA is a profoundly moving film, and not merely because motion itself is a co-star.

McFarland USA should be required viewing in a 2015 America ripped apart daily by hot air debates between old white men about immigration, employment, minimum wage, family values and the preservation of a privilege called ‘The American Dream.’ We’d each be well served spending a couple of hours in silence trying to understand what it’s like living and running in McFarland USA, and the countless other marginalized places just like it dotting our maps that most of us never see or consider.

McFarland USA Dad Daughter Dance

McFarland USA is in one breath a movie about a dad trying to make his family proud while also maintaining some semblance of old school masculinity as provider and as a physically strong individual. We witness a transformation made for Hollywood, one that will surely bring any and all good dads of daughters to tears in a couple spots, most notably the one pictured above.

In another, deeper breath, McFarland USA examines what it means to be successful, to be a family, to dedicate one’s self to a team and to a community, and to have hope in a place where hope isn’t always found or encouraged. It is here where, having already painted my face with parental tears, McFarland USA took my breath away. And I wasn’t even running.

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