It’s interesting how you can care for someone you know so little about.
I had heard of Mr. Rogers prior to watching “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” directed by Morgan Neville. I could even quote him a little, give or take. But, I never felt any kind of connection to him- no real appreciation, empathy, or respect within me could be attributed to Mr. Rogers. I mean, I guess I respected him for what I knew him as. I knew him as someone who did a kids show in the… 90’s? Or something? I didn’t know. I knew he was widely respected for being a kind, genuine human; that was about as far as my knowledge went.
After watching this documentary, though, it’s almost as if I’ve seen every episode of his show. Well, actually, it’s more like I now have a distant memory of it, in that I don’t know specific details: I don’t remember the characters names or names of episodes, but I’ve digested the grand takeaway of the show as if I’ve seen it all the way through.
And it is strange that I feel so fondly towards this man now. Just fifty minutes of seeing him on a screen, and suddenly I’m kind of sad that he’s not here anymore. But why? I’m going to take a wild shot in the dark and say that I feel this way because the documentary did a great job, and by taking a wild shot in the dark, I mean that that’s what I really think.
What did this documentary do well? I think the most important aspect of this film’s success in detailing Mr. Roger’s life was how it treated the chronological order as very important. We track Rogers through his show’s various seasons, highlighting landmark moments along the way. This creates the feeling that we are “along for the ride,” so to speak, in that we see everything unfolding in order as if we were there to see it happen in real time.
However, this is not to say that earlier scenes from the documentary are stuck in the past. There are occasional brief interludes to segue from moment that may take us to a present-day interview, or a look ahead into Rogers’ career. This prevents the documentary from feeling too stranded from present-day reality, and it also allows for insights to be provided that is more hard-hitting than they would have been, had they been presented far after their point of origin.
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” doesn’t just do a great job of providing background information for viewers new to Rogers. It also gives perspective towards Rogers personal life, such as how he acted, and how that could be attributed to the way he conducted his program. It sheds light on the depths of his humanity, as well, simultaneously portraying him as someone who was bigger than life and a person who had their own struggles and misfortunes.
This especially shines in the moments throughout the documentary in which the timeline has hit a bump in the road – a national tragedy. This documentary puts a spotlight on the fact that, when an event such as September 11th took place, Rogers was not simply able to put himself above it all and seek immunity to the terrors these events may have instilled in him. No, he reacted similarly to other people of the nation; the only difference was, Mr. Rogers had a duty to be a voice of reassurance in a crowd of very unassured people.
It’s not easy to be two things at once.
Mr. Rogers sometimes found difficulty in being a real person and a personality for people to look up to. But he was able to move past these difficulties by putting himself in both positions, as he as a real person was the “personality” his program called for. Similarly, Morgan Neville found a way to make this documentary simultaneously welcome to newcomers and inviting to those who were long-time fans of Mr. Rogers.
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a necessary film because of its ability to reach a very wide audience and connect to its viewers at a time when the nation seems to be running low on kindness, much like Mr. Rogers was able to do.
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is available on DVD at your local Redbox.