There are many films and tv shows about new beginnings, fresh starts, reinventing yourself. People move to new cities, go into witness protection, have a revelation and decide to do things differently.
Spoiler Warning – spoilers ahead for Groundhog Day, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Count of Monte Cristo, Mad Men and Jerry Maguire
Groundhog Day – “Well It’s Groundhog Day…Again”
Perhaps the film with the most new beginnings ever, weatherman Phil finds himself trapped in the same day over and over again. After initial shock he realises the rare opportunity he has in essentially doing whatever he wants, there are no consequences to his actions. Phil goes through wild hedonism, sadness, absolute despair and eventually improves his circumstances by doing things for others, in not putting himself first. And whilst the audience isn’t meant to think he does this to break out of his loop (but rather because being a good person is inherently worthwhile) it does end his groundhog day. It is a stunning film of comedic brilliance, an amazing idea and genuine soul-searching reflection.
Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind – “Please Let Me Keep This Memory, Just This One”
One of the great films of all time this is also a great lesson on how to get a fresh start – wipe your memory. The films follows the relationship(s) of Joel and Clem with an unclear narrative structure but we learn that after a difficult period in their relationship, Clem has utilised the services of a special company to have Joel and their relationship wiped from her memory. Not surprisingly Joel decides to do the same thing, however, during the process, Joel realises the mistake he is making and tries desperately to keep the memories. What we come to learn is that Joel and Clem have managed to meet each other after their memory wipes – starting their relationship anew…until they are given the records of their wipes, learning all the frustrations that had developed between them but still deciding to try again/for the first time.
The Count of Monte Cristo – “We Are Kings or Pawns”
It is perhaps an extreme way to do it but a lengthy prison sentence, your loved ones being told of your death and then becoming one of the richest men in the country will help you to a new beginning. Edmond Dantes is falsely imprisoned due to the actions of three men each with a reason to see him harmed, he loses his fiancée, his father dies while he is in prison. He escapes and with knowledge he learned while in prison finds a huge fortune and reinvents himself as the Count of Monte Cristo in order to exact his revenge.
Mad Men – “It Will Shock You How Much It Never Happened”
In many ways Mad Men is the story of one man’s reinvention. Dick Whitman is from a very, very poor background and after an incident in the Vietnam War is able to assume the identity of Don Draper, an officer with better prospects. Of course we don’t learn this in the beginning and the first season slowly explains this. Draper seizes this new opportunity and certainly is successful.
In many ways Mad Men is the story of one woman’s reinvention. Peggy Olson starts as a secretary in an atmosphere of extreme sexism but quickly rises through the company through talent and determination.
In one of the great scenes in all television, Draper visits Olson in hospital. Olsen became pregnant and had a child outside of marriage, which would incur the wrath of 1960s society. Draper tracks down Olsen – who had been his secretary – and convinces her to put this behind her and move on with her life – “it will shock you how much it never happened”.
Jerry Maguire – “I was inspired, and I’m an accountant.”
A greedy and successful sports agent sees the problems of his work and the whole industry and decides to do something about it. Struck with late-night inspiration he writes a mission statement saying how the firm should focus on other things – less money, fewer clients, give their clients better care, not just whatever will make the most money. And this gets him fired, ending up with a single client and a single employee, Dorothy, an accountant who quits with him. Again, it’s as much a fresh start for Dorothy as it is for Jerry, risking everything for a person she barely knows because he’s inspiring.