A few days ago marked the 31st anniversary of the release of The Goonies (1985) (I missed the 30th). So, I decided to watch it while doing some household chores, which turned into me sitting down and subsequently not completing those chores. The film holds a special place in my heart, serving as one of inspirations for my love of history and eventually, archaeology. Though I never realized how much of an influence the film had on me until this viewing. When you’re older you tend to pick up on subtle things in films you didn’t notice as a child. One of the immediate things I noticed is the importance of Mr. Walsh. Other than waving hello as the kids ride by, and not signing a document at the end, Mr. Walsh is not in the film. But without him there would be no adventure. It is his attic where the kids stumble across the map and the doubloon. But why would the Walsh’s have all this junk in their attic, and why wasn’t it addressed to the cleaning lady when discussing the packing of the house? Well, firstly, Mr. Walsh doesn’t want anyone up there. Second, he is the assistant curator of the local museum. The attic serves as overflow for the museum’s collections after a retrospective the museum did on local history (that’s what I said, retrospective. You never listen to me). While the central characters of the film are the kids, we can’t overlook the fact that one of the most important characters for moving the plot forward is an adult.
In a sense, I think that The Goonies is a film about our connectivity to the past and the places we live. The material culture (things) we leave behind for those who come after us can still have an impact. And we are connected to the past through those things.
Mikey and Brand are going to lose their house: the one they grew up in, with the white picket fence and the elaborate Rube Goldberg machine gate opening contraption (one of the many devices that create visual connection between the Mikey and One Eyed Willy). From the moment we meet them there is a sense of loss. Brand has accepted the fate of his family, while Mikey has yet to come to terms with it. Along with Mikey are his friends Data, Mouth, and Chunk. Mikey is the only one in the group that doesn’t have a nickname for some reason. Although technically “Mikey” could be considered a nickname, so never mind.
In their boredom, the group goes up to the attic. There they discover those electric glass ball things, and a bunch of old junk - including a map. Mike recalls the story of One Eyed Willy, a pirate who sailed the seas looting until he was trapped by the British. It was said that he had a whole boatload of treasure somewhere in the caves along the coast. Mikey and his friends decide to go on one last “Goonie” adventure. They tie Brand up, and take off. “I’m going to hit you so hard, when you wake up your clothes will be out of style!” Brand yells out the door as they leave. Using the map, the doubloon, and some really bad green screen/rear projection, they discover that the secret entrance might be located in an old restaurant. Once inside, they meet the Fratellis. After having a glass of water, and encountering an “it” the boys are kicked out. They didn’t hide their bikes very well because Brand caught up with them. And so did the girls (from a scene I didn’t mention) Andy and Stef.
The boys still want to get to the bottom of this mystery. With the help, again, of Chunk’s butter fingers they find a way down. Once below the basement level the story lines begin to have a duality to them, what happens above ground and what takes place below. Below the past, above the present. Yet we don’t really care about what’s going on above, except at certain points. It is interesting that in the first scene underground the children create chaos above by messing with pipes. Maybe I don’t know much about how pipes are installed, but wouldn’t the plumber notice that opening the kids move toward when he installed the pipes? I don’t know, anyway, moving on. Another thing to note in this scene, is the idea of water connecting those below with those above. It is water that helps them discover an opening in the basement floor, which leads them to water pipes underneath the street level. This theme will come up again at the wishing well, and with One Eyed Willy’s escape from the cave.
The Goonies come across the body of the “famous” treasure hunter Chester Copperpot. Chester Copperpot sounds like the name of an old man you’d buy moonshine off of during the Depression. He indeed does have the “key” to One Eyed Willy, as he stated in the newspaper article the boys read earlier. Around his neck, just remove the head and take it. Perhaps in a bit of foreshadowing, the name Copperpot denotes what lies ahead of the group, a place with copper wishes. Ironically, the very place the group uses the “key” from Copperpot. The wishing well is also where Andy decides to become a Goonie, and Mikey gives his speech about time. His speech describes the duality of the character’s attempts at changing their fate. On the one hand, the adults above them are attempting to stop the foreclosure of their homes (the present). The children are also attempting this in a different way below (the past). The well is also a pivotal moment in the character’s connection with the past. Stef tells them not to take the coins because they’re "other people’s wishes". There is this idea that the coins are directly linked to people in the past and therefore must be preserved.
After a pee break, some kissing and slick shoes, the group makes it to the final test. They must play a piano, or organ, made from human bones (note: humans were harmed in the making of this piano). It is a good thing Andy decided to stay with the group since she is the only one who knows how to play a piano, or at least took lessons. Here we see again a connectivity to the past. Andy must recall a skill she learned as a child. It's a less appreciate social-skill in the 20th century, yet there is a universally timelessness to this skill. Both Andy and the men who built (make up) the piano are connected by it. After some foul play, Andy is able to lower the hatch, and the group slides their way towards Willy's ship.
The ship itself (an homage to the ship in Captain Blood (1935) which happened to be the movie Sloth was watching earlier) is still in tact. A feat in itself since it's been resting, water logged, in a cave since the 17th century. The kids climb aboard in search of Willy's treasure. Stef asks Mikey "where is the treasure," to which he replies "this whole ship is a treasure." Perhaps this statement relates to an ideal instilled by his father. The importance of the preservation of the past.
While the rest of the group is solely in this adventure for monetary gain, Mikey is looking to complete a story. To justify a folk tale told to him by his father. He is one of the only characters that believes the story to be true from the very beginning of the film. In discovering the ship, Mikey has already found closure. Once they find the secret room with all the treasure, they grab as much as they can. The only problem is they're caught by the Fratellis. Not to worry, Chunk, or should I say Captain Chunk, is there to save them with the help of his new friend Sloth. The group escapes, but they lose all the loot they had gathered. While making their way along the beach they're picked up by the police. Their parents show up, with hugs and pizzas.
Troy's father takes advantage of the group's gathering to have Mr. Walsh sign those papers. But all is not lost, Mikey happened to put some jewels in his marble bag, a fair exchange. They can use the jewels to pay off the debt. Mr. Walsh rips up the paper and everyone cheers. But what about that ship? Willy makes one more voyage out to sea.
The Goonies presents the past as important, but not important enough to be preserved. While the characters are not out to destroy the materials from the past, they certainly do nothing to prevent their destruction. At the same time, the film presents a connectivity to the past. It teaches us that those in the past should matter to us. We all have a story to tell.
Ironically, the character who is most involved in the preservation of the past, Mr. Walsh, inadvertently does nothing to preserve it. He stores artifacts in his attic, and he uses jewels to pay off a loan. In light of family circumstances, his professional code of ethics has been set aside. Or maybe marine salvage laws apply, so it doesn't matter. Either way, we can't be too mad at Mr. Walsh. At least he took the time to keep those items in the attic. The "rejects" from the museum found a place in his home.
One thing I think we can take away from this film is that no matter where you live, someone has been there before. And their story - their culture - influences you.
In part 2 I will be discussing one of cinema's most famous curators, Marcus Brody. Like Mr. Walsh, he is a character that is in the background yet has great influence on the film's narrative.
All photos are screenshots from the 2001 Warner Bros DVD release of The Goonies.
The Distracted Blogger
I watch movies. I write about them here. I watch more movies. I get nothing else done.
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