Road trips are exciting. They are opportunities to build bonds with friends or family. Even the best laid plans for a road trip are subject to the mysterious adventures that one may encounter – which is really one of the draws. They can take us to places we’ve never been before – geographically, relationally, and emotionally. Which means, sometimes road trips can be stressful.
The film The Open Road (2009) is such a journey film. Carlton Garrett (Justin Timberlake) is the adult son of a baseball legend. Carlton’s mother Katherine (Mary Steenburgen) is ill and needs surgery. However, she won’t agree to the surgery until she sees Carlton’s father, Kyle (Jeff Bridges). She asks Carlton to find his father.
Carlton and his friend Lucy (Kate Mara) head to Ohio to meet Carlton at an event for baseball fans. After some persuasion Carlton convinces his father to fly back to Texas with him. The next morning, Kyle shows up without his wallet and ID. After much “discussion”, Lucy recommends they rent a vehicle and drive back to Texas. And so, they hit the open road.
The trip from Ohio to Texas proves to be an interesting one. For Carlton it’s a journey of self-discovery. Carlton, as a minor league baseball player following in the footsteps of his father, feels that there is just something more to this thing called life. Lucy came on the trip to be supportive of her friend but also to discover what her feelings for Carlton really are. And then there’s Kyle. A father with a shattered relationship with his son. A father who left home to pursue his career. He is the prodigal father.
In this story it is the father, as compared to the son in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15, who leaves home for all of the excitement of the “real world.” And through the journey back home, Kyle becomes aware of the mistakes he’s made in his life. He becomes more aware of the relationships that suffered because of his decisions. And he resolves to fix all that.
But like Jesus’ story in Luke 15, there are others who “come home.” Carlton, like the older brother, stayed home. He’s been taking care of his sick mother. As a result, one could argue, his relationship with Lucy suffered and his dream of becoming a writer was put on the back burner. The road trip home gives Carlton a chance to meet his father again. A chance to meet Lucy (his true love). And a chance to meet himself.
In one of the climatic scenes, Carlton and Kyle get into a fight. Carlton yells at his father, “Why didn’t you love us?” Kyle, stumbling to the floor exhausted from the struggle, says, “I did love you. I just loved myself more.” This moment of realization enables both men to not only continue their road trip, but to embark on the journey that leads to forgiveness and healing.
Perhaps we need to go on more road trips.