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Catch Me If You Can

Director:
Steven Spielberg
Starring: Leonardo di Caprio, Tom Hanks
Length: 140 minutes
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Warner Home Video


Leonardo di Caprio plays Frank Abagnale, the con artist extraordinaire, in this completely enjoyable movie biography. Tom Hanks plays Carl Hanratty, a serious and purposeful FBI agent, hot on Abagnale’s trail. The two are in many ways more alike than they are different, and that’s the crux of the movie’s message.

Imagine a teenaged boy, secure in his family situation, adoringly watching his parents being together, proudly watching his dad receive awards. Imagine that this all falls apart. Abagnale, only 16 years old, runs away to escape the pain of the family’s disintegration brought on by his father’s financial troubles, losing their home, and his parents’ divorce, and recreates himself first as an airline pilot, then as a doctor, and then as a lawyer, with no training at all. Impressed with the prestige of these roles, his schemes seem aimed at helping himself feel better, and helping his father restore his social status, broken down by problems with the IRS. He becomes masterful at check forgery – giving himself nice paychecks along the way - and tries in some ways to take care of his dad. Abagnale is a story teller, cleverly talking his way through many situations to get what he needs. He learns how to play these roles just well enough to fool most everyone.

Everyone except Hanratty, who is onto the boy’s incredible ruses and aggressively pursues Abagnale across the country and then, finally, to an eventual confrontation in France. It’s not an easy pursuit, since Abagnale tricks Hanratty over and over again. But Hanratty doesn’t give up. It seems that this “catch” is all the FBI agent ever thinks about, and one Christmas, when Hanratty is alone he calls Abagnale, and starts a tradition between them.

So, predator and prey are in relationship, so to speak. It is the ‘catch me’ game that keeps them both alive, that gives each of them something to live for. They are both lonely, and both have “stories” that give meaning to the existence they have both chosen. And, their stories have brought their paths together.

In the end, Hanratty catches Abagnale. Abagnale is sent to prison, but Hanratty, who has gained respect and empathy for the kid, recognizes a possibility, and finds a way to create a new story for both of them. Hanratty becomes, in some ways, a new father figure to the boy; and the boy’s creativity gets to play on new turf. No longer predator and prey, no longer enemies, Hanratty gets the credit here for transforming both of their lives.
 

Reflections

  1. If you believe that there is some sort of order to the way that life unfolds, and that people are on or in your path for some reason, what is the reason that a thorny or difficult person is in your life?
  2. Hanratty was appalled at Abagnale’s audacity and had labeled him a bad guy. What caused Hanratty’s shift? Have you ever been able to see your enemies in a new light?
  3. This film supports the idea that all behavior makes sense in some context. How can that inform you, especially in relation to those people in your life that you don’t like or don’t understand?
  4. Have you ever transformed your relationship with an enemy from enemy to friend? What enabled that to happen?
     

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