Mr Rogers will only be a childhood name for any Americans among us. But, by the time this film is finished, you’re going to wish you’d grown up with him, too.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood stars Tom Hanks as the legendary children’s television presenter, Fred Rogers, better known as ‘Mr Rogers’ to millions around the world. Award-winning Esquire journalist Lloyd Vogel is given the job of writing a profile on Rogers. When the writer arrives in Pittsburgh to meet the real Mr Rogers, he is determined to find the man beneath the mask. Yet he is profoundly disturbed by the gentleman waiting to meet him.
Tom Hanks portrays a TV host who is unearthly and attractive at the same time. He is amazingly patient as he addresses his pre-school audience, clear in his affection for every child and profoundly helpful in his advice: ‘Forgiveness. It’s a decision we make to release a person from the feelings of anger we have at them.’
It’s this piece of wisdom that forms the moral backbone for the film. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is the true story of how Roger’s patience with Vogel led to the journalist reconciling with his father. Yet this film contains much more than a single storyline.
Vogel meets a man intensely interested in whoever the day has placed before him. It’s a gentle challenge to a digital generation used to dividing its attention six different ways.
Rogers is also a man who uses self-discipline to subdue his darker side. He swims every day, lives frugally, visibly thinks before he answers, then uses his words carefully. Again, his habit of self-denial contrasts starkly with a world used to expressing every feeling and indulging every desire.
Most importantly, though, Rogers loves people. We may live in a world that mouths the importance of every human being but Rogers stops to listen – really listen – to children. And he asks the film’s angry antagonist to take one minute’s silence to think of all the people who loved him into being. Then A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood does it – in real time.
In one scene Vogel meets with Rogers’ wife, Joanne, and asks her what it’s like to be married to a living saint. She responds, ‘I’m not fond of that term. He is a normal person. He has a temper. He has to work at it.’
The film does show Rogers working at it, but it’s clear he doesn’t work alone. The real
Mr Rogers was a committed Christian who saw Jesus’ call to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ as his life’s goal. His character reads the Bible every day and prays for people by name every night – but his peace doesn’t come from himself. The film shows him turning to God for strength. What emerges is a picture of Christianity’s most powerful argument: the life of its founder, shining through dedicated men and women, into a dark world.
Watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and you’ll see the truth of Jesus’ words, millennia before we ever turned on a TV set: ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (John 13:35).
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
RELEASE DATE: 23 January 2020
This feature story comes from The Lutheran February 2020. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.