Wow it was hard to get out of bed this morning. What happened? Yesterday it was so easy! Today there are a lot of things to talk about, and so little time. I woke up with this song in my brain from a TV show that made me cry, and then I check Facebook to see all the videos shared of Gene Wilder, which reminded me of his death, and then there’s general stuff that I always want to discuss more. How do I choose?
Well, it’s not really a choice. Now, for me, Gene Wilder was not really a massive influence. I mean, I certainly watched him when I saw him play Willy Wonka, and I was fortunate enough to have parents excited to show me Young Frankenstein. And I suppose those are perhaps enough to have made a significant impact on my life. I’ve probably seen Young Frankenstein a dozen times, and I can remember singing along to Pure Imagination.
But maybe we should take a look at what his work meant in a more abstract way. He brought smiles to people’s faces through his humor, but he was also a serious enough person in character to make him seem human. Take the moment where Willy Wonka snaps at Charlie for going against the rules. That’s a very human thing to do. Sure, perhaps this is how it was written, but Gene Wilder brought it to life.
Or maybe take a look at his role as Young Frankenstein instead. This movie was full of giggles, silly jokes, and sexual innuendo (What knockers!). Yet take the opening lecture scene, where Gene’s Frankenstein struggles with his name. There’s the vanity struggle of a person who is ashamed of his heritage yet proud of his intellect. And then he stabs himself with a pencil. That takes a lot of heart to pull of without breaking character.
Of course, he was more than just a film icon from an era of the past. He was also just a good guy. Amidst all the posts about pure imagination and Frankenstein, I found a quote about religion that I think anybody with a conscience should read: “I’m going to tell you what my religion is: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Period. Teminato. Finito…I have no other religion. I feel very Jewish and I feel very grateful to be Jewish…” That’s just so beautiful, isn’t it? He went on to say he didn’t believe in God or anything to do with Judaism. But that’s less relevant than the core message of that quote—which is that, in life, your religion only extends as far as your heart does. Any person can claim to be anything, but in their actions you will find their true being. A person could claim to be a good Christian, and yet they would condemn the poor to suffering, and preach hate rather than love. An person could claim to be a follower of Islam, yet the would denounce and attack other groups in the name of Allah. An Atheist could claim to have all the answers and denounce other religions, and yet they have shown a lack of understanding for respect of others belief.
So be sure to keep the hearts of others in mind when you go forward in life. Gene Wilder was a wonderful inspiration to many, and a comedic genius to most. So I’ll end with one of the less quoted lines from his most popular singing role. “If you want to view paradise / simply look around and view it.”