To this day, nearly twenty years later, Skittles always make me think of this movie. Of a grainy filmstrip image interrupted now and then by hair and lint. Of sharing popcorn and giggles with three or four other teenage girls, two of whom are still my close friends.
But, nostalgia is not the main reason why I love this movie. I love it because it gave me my first real taste of the idea of a “found family.” I grew up in a very close-knit family, and I’m very attached to the idea of having people who love and accept you; people you belong to and who belong to you; people to be with in troubles, celebrations, and everyday life. So as the movie began, my heart ached for Lucy (Sandra Bullock) as she struggled to celebrate Christmas alone, with no family at all to share her joy, no one she belonged to. With both her parents dead, no siblings, and really no friends, she embodied a loneliness so potent it felt contagious.
And then the Callaghan family embraced her, literally, giving her a giant group hug when they learned she was their comatose son’s fiancée. Which she wasn’t, but they believed she was, and before Lucy could gather the courage to explain the truth, they made her part of their family. They gave her the love, acceptance, and belonging she’d been missing. (She then fell in love with their other son, Jack [Bill Pullman], but I’m not going to go into the whole plot because you’ve probably seen this movie a million times, too. And if you haven’t, go rent it, stream it, borrow it, or buy it.)
I was fascinated by this idea of finding a family if you didn’t have one, of joining other people and forging the bonds that are so dear to me. I’ve been drawn to stories about “found families” ever since: Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, the X-Men movies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, The Avengers, and Lost. One of my favorite television shows from childhood, Five Mile Creek, also dealt with this theme, though it took me years to realize that.
While You Were Sleeping first brought the idea to my attention, and made me wonder, “What if I didn’t have a family?” I’ve often imagined myself ending up like Lucy: alone with a cat and plenty of acquaintances, but no one I belonged to. What would I do? Would I go find or create a family for myself? How does one even go about that?
I make friends fairly easily. If you like books or movies, I’m happy to hang out with you and discuss them. We can totally be friends. But close friends, friends that feel like they belong to you—I make those very slowly. It can take me years to get to the point where I’ll feel that bond of kinship, not just friendship. It does happen eventually, if I let it. I’d like to think that, had I never met my husband, never gotten married, and for some reason not lived anywhere near my parents or brother, I would have formed a family of sorts around myself. Not quite the way Lucy does, of course—I’m pretty sure I would never have the opportunity to rescue a man from an oncoming train and then pretend to be his fiancée. But somehow, I would find people to be my family.
Toward the end of While You Were Sleeping, Lucy’s boss tells her, “You are born into a family. You don’t join it like the Marines.” I like to believe he’s wrong, that if you need a family, you can find one… or one will find you.
(This post originally appeared in the November/December 2014 issue of Femnista magazine.)