For this week’s installment of Throwback Thursdays, I want to give a throwback to another one of my favorite childhood movies—1997’s Men In Black. I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately and since it’s on Netflix in Canada, I’ve been rewatching it quite a lot and I find it’s still fun, enjoyable, and comforting.
Spoilers for the movie below, obviously.
For those of you who don’t know what this movie is about, Men In Black follows Jay and Kay, agents who work for a secret organization whose purpose is to monitor alien activity on Earth. The movie begins with an evil bug alien arriving on Earth to steal a galaxy (which is an incredibly powerful energy source) another alien prince has hidden in New York. Jay and Kay chase after the bug, and a coroner, Dr. Laurel Weaver, becomes involved as well.
I love this movie for a number of reasons, but one of them became clear to me only as I was rewatching it for the umpteenth time last weekend, and that reason is that this movie is a lot like Harry Potter. It has a whole different world hidden away from our eyes and in plain sight. Only certain people are privy to this world and they do everything they can to keep the secret (including wiping memories and creating cover-ups). It stars an unsuspecting hero who is just an ordinary person, but who is also creative, quick-thinking, brave, and kind, which allows him to succeed in his mission.
I also love the characters, particularly Jay (Will Smith). One of my favorite bits in the movie is Jay’s audition for MiB, when he goes up against a bunch of overachieving military types. Jay is not book-smart and sticks out like a sore thumb, but he is also resourceful, thinks outside of the box and is able to see that things that look menacing may actually be benign and vice versa, which makes him best suited for MiB.
Dr. Laurel Weaver (Linda Fiorentino) is a favorite as well. Although she is essentially the one female character in an otherwise male ensemble, I feel like the movie manages to avoid most of the sexist tropes associated with such a character. She is totally unfazed by finding out aliens live on Earth and shows nothing but scientific curiosity towards them. Dr. Weaver does get kidnapped by the bug alien, but she doesn’t need the men to rescue her and so she isn’t really a damsel in distress. In fact, she is the one to finally kill the evil alien, thus saving Jay and Kay, not to mention Earth. Also, despite the fact that Laurel and Jay flirt, she doesn’t become the love interest and there is no annoying Smooch of Victory. In the end, she joins MiB as well, as Jay’s new partner.
Like all movies, Men In Black isn’t perfect. Apart from the fact that Dr. Weaver is the only woman in the ensemble, there are also some fatphobic comments by Jay which are played for laughs in the beginning, which I don’t appreciate. Also, as someone fascinated by aliens, I would love if there had been one or two more fleshed out alien characters, other than the villain. As it is, however, all the other aliens serve mostly as quirky comic relief and support to help the protagonists and advance the plot. That being said, I love Gentle Rosenberg, the alien prince who was guarding the galaxy. His role is short, as he gets killed by the bug alien very quickly, but I find him fascinating. He’s royalty but he has chosen to hide protecting the galaxy and live a humble life running a jewelry store. He also loves his cat and, apparently, Polish food. I just would like to know more about him and how he ended up on Earth.
I’ve talked about why this movie is fun and enjoyable, but I haven’t yet touched on why I find it comforting, aside from the fact that my childhood movies tend to have that effect on me. It’s the message of the galaxy that fits inside a marble. Again, I am reminded of Harry Potter and how size isn’t necessarily an indicator of power, or importance. Jay and Kay spend an entire movie chasing down a galaxy tied around a kitten’s neck but you don’t quite get that it could actually be an actual galaxy populated with people until the very end, when the Earth, the Solar System, and the Milky Way galaxy are shown to be contained in a marble alien children use to play. As a child, it used to mess with my head quite a bit, but now, entertaining the idea that we may all just be swirling around in a marble is a source of a certain spiritual calmness.
I loved Men In Black as a kid because it shows you the world—which is very much like the real one, but with bigger and more exciting things happening which are hidden from most people’s eyes. And it’s funny. And as a grown-up, I can appreciate the characters of Jay and Dr Laurel Weaver as well as the messages about what it takes to be a hero and the importance of small things. Definitely check it out if you haven’t already.