I had seen The Fifth Element at least fifty times before I actually watched it. Each time was with my father. He was always the kind of man that liked science fiction, westerns, history, craftsmanship, and essentially everything manly. Basically, my dad is like Ron Swanson if he opened up his mind to the possibility of aliens.
I was about six years old the first time my dad turned on The Fifth Element, and I hated every second of it. Just like I hated Dune, Conan the Barbarian, Total Recall, Alien, Blade Runner, all the Star Wars movies, and every other awesome film he ever showed me. I never had a reason, except that it wasn’t what I wanted to watch. A purely egocentric perspective.
I’d always been the kind of kid that obsessed over the things I liked, pushing the video cassette back into the VCR every time Aladdin or Beauty and the Beast finished, over and over again for hours, days at a time even. And I was always the kind of selfish that only a kid with incredibly patient parents could be, silently sullen every time I didn’t get to pick the movie. It’s funny that you never really want to understand your parents until you’re old enough to empathize with them.
I remember that first viewing, sitting on the couch with my dad as these big lumbering aliens stumbled upon Luke Perry and that older archeologist bro that nobody knows the name of (John Bluthal, apparently he’s been in a lot of things), nodding off. Our living room was modest, a television set that hadn’t been in style since the mid-80’s, propped up on a plain brown stand surrounded by furniture my mother had painted and upholstered herself. The couch molded to him, and there was a small divot on the right cushion just my size. My dad always laid on his side, his legs crooked with his toes pressed against the scratchy cotton fabric of our first family couch. I liked to sit in that little nook his legs made and pretend I was steering a spaceship. With my dad’s legs as my command center, I fought harder and harder to be irritated he wouldn’t let me watch Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
I didn’t remember much about The Fifth Element, just the blue alien Diva Plavalaguna singing that beautiful song before the velvet red curtain fell behind her and shit really hit the fan. Milla Jovovich’s messy, bright orange hair and the way Bruce Willis said her name. “Lee-Loo,” like his mind got clouded over with fuzzy feelings reminiscent of puppy love every time those two nonsense syllables joined up.
I sat cross-legged, pressing away at different spots on my dad’s ankles and calves, directing my ship through the ether while Bruce Willis pulled a hysterical, androgynously-dressed Chris Tucker through the labyrinthine tunnels of the hotel searching for Lee-Loo. I didn’t realize it then, but even this little display of patience, my dad casually watching on and ignoring the prodding and poking fingers of his child, peppering his movie with little complaints of: “Daddy, when can I watch something?” or “Daddy, why do they just want a bunch of rocks?” or “Daddy, I’m hungry and thirsty and Tommy just became the white ranger.”
I guess what I’m getting at is this: I was a dick.
The first time I ever truly watched The Fifth Element, I was with my dad, and though things were different, they were very much the same. I wasn’t sitting behind his legs pretending to drive a spaceship, but my father hadn’t changed one bit. He was still the same man that listened to my complaints, calmly explained to his wife the plot of every movie she walked into the middle of, and answered her insane questions without irritation. Now, the couch was accompanied by two plush easy chairs in their master bedroom. The hutch that held the big screen television was lined with pictures from my teenage years, pictures of my parents as I had known them early on, big haired and smiley. My dad’s favorite picture was of him with long hair and denim cut-offs leaning against his black ‘65 Mustang. That’s the man I remembered watching The Fifth Element with, stoic and intimidating. There was a large wrap-around desk my mother sat at, playing puzzle games on her computer and asking questions over her shoulder, lined with bills and all the prescription medications my dad has to keep track of.
I was an adult by this point, visiting home and sitting on my father’s couch, in the spot that had perfectly conformed to his buttocks, while he sat in an easy chair with a stack of paperwork in his lap. “Oh, The Fifth Element?” He’d asked while I browsed through the list on Netflix. “I love that movie.”
I know, I wanted to say, resisting the urge to tell him we’d sat through it numerous times in my childhood. It wasn’t a suggestion, just a statement he made glancing over the header of his papers, but I pressed play anyway. It’s funny how the memories you make are so shaped by perception. The scenes I thought I remembered looked so different to me as an adult, were engaging and entertaining, and hysterically campy and unique. How refreshing, a future where humanity didn’t get wiped out in a horrible apocalypse, even well into the twenty-third century, and men like Korben Dallas can be cab drivers and heroes.
At twenty-two years old, I finally realized my dad has some pretty great taste.
You never realize the good times until you’re out of them. I spent the majority of my life thinking that my father and I had nothing in common, that I couldn’t talk to him or that he didn’t understand me. The truth is, children don’t want to be understood by their parents. When you’re a kid, you assume they’re picking on you by keeping you from watching that episode of Dexter’s Lab or making you read Where the Red Fern Grows because it was a favorite growing up. I spent my whole life trying to deny that fact simply because he was my father. All those movies he watched when I was a kid, I would have loved myself, had I been old enough to understand them. All the jokes he laughed at and the things he said, they seemed so strange to me then. Now half the time the only person that laughs at my jokes is my dad; he gets it. Perhaps knowledge truly comes with maturity. As an adult, you can appreciate all the barriers and boundaries they placed on you as a kid, the fact that they didn’t want to be your friend but your role model.
After I turned eighteen, my relationship with my father changed. Throughout my teenage years, he was distant but loving, but after my grandfather died, he was the only person I could relate to, and I’d actively been making more of an effort to do what he wanted to do. Sure, the house I grew up in was much nicer than the one I was born in, and my parents worked hard to make sure that we never wanted for anything, even if it meant that they went without. Their hobbies and interests got put on the back burner to make sure we were looked after properly, and those are the kinds of things you never appreciate until you get older. Once they’ve molded you into the person they’ve always hoped you’d become, that’s when your parents become your best friends.
Today, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m just like my father. You never understand how much your parents are looking to connect with you, that they need your love as much as you need theirs, until you’re too old to crawl back up on the couch beside them and use their legs like a command center for your spaceship.
Amy Kisner is a Las Vegas native currently residing in Chicago. She recently graduated from Columbia College’s undergraduate Fiction Writing program. Her work can be found in Paper and Ink, CCLaP’s student anthology Chicago After Dark, and upcoming in Hair Trigger 37. She also edits litliterature.com in her spare time.