This is an incredibly personal post for me, something that I’ve never really done before. Now that I have my own safe space, I want to write something for a dear friend of mine who sadly is no longer with us. His name was Michael John Wallington and we became firm friends during secondary school. Sadly, at the beginning of our final year, some things became too much for him to handle, and he tragically died. Today would have been his thirty-sixth birthday and I feel that it is the perfect time to discuss how I maintain my connection with him through the films that bonded us.
Films, like the rest of the arts, have this powerful ability to have an impact on our lives and emotions. They also conjure up memories and emotions whenever you settle down for a re-watch. I’ve always been someone who has found it easy to watch films I like multiple times and have used many as comfort over the years. It makes sense then, that when Michael passed away, all the films that were special to both of us became tinged with even more magic, and were a way to keep our friendship frozen in time.
Mortal Kombat was not only the first film that Michael and I connected over, but it was also the movie that essentially began our friendship. We met during year nine – or our third year – of secondary school and began hanging out as part of a wider group that consisted of my group of gal pals and his closest male friends. I’m not going to lie, teenage me instantly had a crush on him as he had an air of John Connor about him and Edward Furlong was one of my stronger crush phases. Also around this time, I was the victim of our Queen Bee’s disdain for some trivial reason or another, and I found myself excommunicado at her request. Before that falling out, the group had made plans to go to the cinema to watch A Night at the Roxbury and I found myself uninvited. During my exile speech the girl in question threw my crush on Michael in my face, telling me that I’d never had the nerve to speak to him. Spurred on by these words, and knowing that Michael also wasn’t going to the cinema, I did one of the ballsiest things of my life – I picked up the phone and gave him a call.
We had a really great chat and agreed to meet up to hang out. During our phone call we connected over our love of The Terminator, Terminator 2, and Aliens, though Michael revealed he had yet to see the relatively new Alien Resurrection. I offered to bring my copy (on trusty VHS) for him to borrow when we met up. He insisted on lending me one in return, but I’d already seen a lot of what he was offering. Then he got to Mortal Kombat. I knew of the game, but not so much the film. We met, had a great laugh together, and exchanged VHS tapes. I watched it that night after getting in and just loved it. Over the months and years that followed we watched the film countless times together and independently, and it got to the point where I could quote the movie – and still can. The one scene that we absolutely adored was the fight between Sonja Blade and Kano. We knew it word and move perfect, and would regularly re-enact it together. Now, whenever I stick the film in the player, I’m instantly transported back to that initial watching and connecting with him. As fun as that Kano vs Blade battle is, it brings a bittersweet tear or two to my eye. Even watching the recent 2021 Mortal Kombat dragged up some of those feelings as the film features the same two characters.
The Lost Boys
The Lost Boys has become one of my favourite films, and if it wasn’t for Michael, it would have taken me a lot longer to discover it. It was a film that came up in a conversation, and then literally the following week I stumbled across it in Woolworths. As Michael spoke so highly of it, I decided to give it a whirl. The film had me hooked from that brilliant boardwalk opening and may have also kick-started a minor obsession with Kiefer Sutherland. Although this one didn’t encourage the same closeness as Mortal Kombat, I always remember that it was Michael that put this brilliant film on my radar.
The Matrix reinvented both action cinema and science-fiction films, whilst re-igniting the career of Keanu Reeves after a few wobbly releases. It also had a massive impact on fashion and technology trends. Without The Matrix, Nokia and the flip phone might not have become as prominent, and helped them take over. The film also inspired the wearing of long trench-coats and wrap around glasses. Michael watched and adored The Matrix and spent time trying to emulate his screen hero Neo. He started wearing long coats, got some similarly styled glasses, and began getting his haircut like Keanu in the film. All his hard work really paid off and he would walk around the school looking like a mini-Neo. The really sad thing is that he never got to see the sequels. I know the reception and quality of the stories within them is the centre of much division, but I’m sure that he would have adored them. Over twenty years later, I still immediately think of Michael whenever I settle in to watch The Matrix.
Over the course of our friendship, Michael and I saw many films together: Final Destination, The Blair Witch Project (on the way to which we actually got lost), and Gossip being just a few. One of the last films that we watched together at the cinema was X-Men, in fact we watched it twice at the cinema. The last time was only about a week before he died and so that visit is now permanently seared into my brain. Despite seeing it twice, neither of us was particularly enamoured with it, we just had another friend that had missed it the first time and we agreed to accompany them. There’s no denying it was a solid film, one that really helped open the doors for the superhero movie genre that we are overwhelmed with today, but for me, it is just another link helping keep a departed loved one alive.
The first time I watched The Crow I was only about twelve and, I hate to say it but, well I thought it was boring. At the time the only real brush with death I had experienced was that of an elderly man I used to visit. My second time watching it was in the immediate wake of Michael’s death and I was an absolute wreck during the resurrection scene. Even now, having watched the film over a hundred times, my breath still catches during that sequence. The fact that Brandon Lee died during production almost certainly strengthened that emotional response; I was watching a man who had tragically died, play a character who died in tragic circumstance, whilst mourning someone that I loved whose death was yet another tragedy. The Crow undertook a whole new resonance with me, and I made Sarah’s end quote from the film my mantra. I even wrote it in the card that accompanied my funeral flowers. the quote is:
When people we love are stolen from us, the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them. Buildings burn, people die, but real love lasts forever.
For me I keep my love of my friend alive with regular viewings of all of the films listed above. Doing this has been a kind of therapy for me, the healing power of movies is so often overlooked and yet I know I’m not alone in retreating into a movie when either life gets tough, or I want to be transported back to a happier time.
Films don’t have to be critically acclaimed to win a place in your heart, they just need to link with an important life experience, and through them, people, memories, and emotions can become immortal.