City Slickers: Just One Thing

Posted: June 26, 2012 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Comedy, Drama
Tags: , , , ,

I recently had the opportunity to re-watch one of my nearly forgotten favorite films from 1991, City Slickers.  For those too young to remember, this movie featured Billy Crystal in his heyday (as well as the successful writing team of Ganz and Mandel).  Crystal had several hits in the late 80’s and early 90’s featuring his quick Long Island New York wit (which also made him the best Oscars host in modern history).  Being just a young adult and newly married when City Slickers was released, I probably didn’t watch it with much of a critical Biblical worldview eye.  But now, I can enjoy the timeless humor as well as interact with the film’s strong “meaning of life” theme.

The story centers around three “city slicker” best friends who decide to go on a two-week vacation as cowboys on a real working ranch.  This adventure was a fairly new choice in the 90’s for men going through a midlife crisis–which well describes Mitch, Ed, and Phil.  Mitch (Billy Crystal) is majorly depressed, emasuclated by his boss, and overall miserable in life.  Ed (Bruno Kirby) expresses his midlife crisis by being a womanizer who has trouble “settling down,” and an adrenaline addict (he comes up with all the adventures).  Phil (Daniel Stern) is the most pitiful of all, committing adultery to escape a lifeless marriage and an even more emasculating job.  These are three middle age men who definitely need something to change in their lives.

Even though all three men somewhat succeed in dealing with their personal midlife crisis by being transformed from city slickers to cowboys, Mitch is the main focus of the movie.  He forms a hilarious “odd couple” brief friendship with Curly, the crusty old trail boss, played brillianty by Jack Palance.  Curly has life all figured out.  He scoffs at “city folks” who think way too much and make everything so complicated.  He is amused by all the middle aged men who think a two-week cowboy experience will change their lives.  Even though he acts like he may kill Mitch with just one glare, Curly ends up giving him a much needed dose of life.

How does the old trail boss do this? Well, Curly tells Mitch the SECRET OF LIFE!  In a raspy cowboy voice, He holds up one finger and says: “The secret to life is just one thing…just one thing.  Find that one thing, and nothing else matters.”  By the end of the movie, Mitch finally understands what Curly means, and finds that ONE thing.  Or, as his wife comments, he find his smile again.  Mitch finds what truly matters  (you’ll have to watch the movie to see what it is!).

This storyline made me laugh in my 20s, but it really resonates with me in my 40s (By the way, Crystal give a hilarious but true summary of life-by-decades to his son’s grade school class).  Mid-life crises are real events in many people’s lives, especially men.  Many are in dead-end jobs, or stuck in careers that they chose for the money rather than as a true calling.  Others are emasculated in their jobs or in their homes.  Still others are trapped in struggling or lifeless marriages.  And, of course, many are wandering without Christ in their lives.

There are certainly men who attempt to solve this problem by going on yearly “manly” extreme adventures.  Others invest themselves heavily in weekend hobbies and avocations to try to get some joy in their lives.  Still others so deeply identify in their favorite sports teams to try to feel like “winners” or re-live their youth.  Again, still others, chase the almighty dollar and invest in too many boys’s toys in order to deal with the pain.  (Unfortunately, not too many men seek to solve their mid-life crises by improving their marriages, getting more involved in serious Bible study, or even church ministry!)  Yet none of these activities even the good ones, will truly solve the problem.

Old Curly had the solution.  Find that one thing…and nothing else matters!  Find that one thing, and it puts everything else in persepctive.  The Apostle Paul puts this truth much better than Curly in Philippians 1:21.

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

This is the secret to life. It is actually the only way to life.  When we are living for anything else, we live in fear of losing it in this life, and we certainly lose it in death.  Living for money and material possessions?  They become someone else’s when we die.  Living for fame and power?  You will be quicky forgotten after you die.  Living for fun and pleasure?  Again, gone at death.  And, like Mitch, Ed, and Phil, we can actually live like death while seemingly alive.  But, when “to live is Christ,” we enjoy an abundant life in Christ, and then gain even more in death!  Even when we suffer through difficult things in this life, centering on JESUS as the “one thing” brings grace to live and true meaning in life and death.



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