Tom Hanks, America’s Dad, is starring as Mr. Rogers, America’s Best Person, in a biopic directed by Marielle Heller, so just start polishing those Oscars right now. It’s called A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and it’s framed around a journalist, played by Matthew Rhys, interviewing Fred Rogers for an Esquire article (“Can You Say…Hero?”, but fair warning, you will cry before you finish the article). I watched this trailer once and cried for five minutes, so I am preparing myself now to spend the entire runtime of the film bawling my eyes out. Something about Mr. Rogers immediately provokes catharsis. Is it because he instilled in us as children a conduit to our emotions? Is this some leftover Pavlovian response to childhood feelings hour? Or is it because we desperately need Mr. Rogers, and he’s no longer here, and the world is worse without him?
Last year, Fred Rogers was the subject of a documentary infused with his kindness, and this year, Tom Hanks is interpreting him for a mass audience. Websites are quick to update where episodes of his show can be watched online. Sixteen years after his death, we’re excavating Mr. Rogers, ensuring he endures for the generations of children who will grow up without him as a tangible presence in their lives. It’s like we know we need him, and since he is gone, we must preserve him, and his message of kindness and empathy, in perpetuity. And maybe it’s because we know we’re failing his expectations of us. All he wanted was for kids to be given the love and acceptance they needed to grow up to be loving and accepting adults. He wanted to connect us with ourselves, and each other, to create a community founded on shared empathy, and we’re letting him down. He would never say that, of course. Mr. Rogers never scolded. But he would give us another chance to get it right. He’s not here, though, so we have to do it for ourselves. And we are, we’ve made an opportunity to gather as a community, to sit quietly together and be reminded of the importance of kindness and empathy. Tom Hanks is totally going to win his third Oscar for making entire nations cry together, and maybe in so doing, build a kinder world.