Bonding Time: Frequency and Family

Losing a parent is a formative event in a person’s life, separating everything that came before from everything that comes after. The degree of this feeling must increase exponentially if someone is a child when this happens, instead of being an adult as I was when my dad passed away. Films and TV shows often use this emotional life turning point as the catalyst for character development or thematic progression. The film Frequency presents the idea of family, especially the father-son relationship, as an invaluable partnership and perhaps the strongest of life’s connections.

Directed by Gregory Hoblit and written by Toby Emmerich, Frequency hit theaters in 2000. Jim Caviezel stars as John Sullivan, a 36-year-old police detective whose father Frank, played by Dennis Quaid, died 30 years earlier. Frank was a firefighter who lost his life in the line of duty. One night, John is fooling around with his father’s old HAM radio and manages to talk to his dad exactly 30 years in the past. He warns Frank about his death, but changing that event leads to consequences they must work together to fix.

Though the script of this film attempts a scientific answer about why radio waves can travel 30 years in time (something about solar flares), the significant thing regarding the high concept premise is it the high emotional stakes of preserving the bond between parent and child ground it. This applies to not only John and his father, but John and his mother as well. When Frank changes his fate by not dying in a fire, it indirectly alters the actions of a serial killer working in the area and adds more victims. One of them turns out to be Frank’s wife and John’s mother, Julia. John is the one with the information about the murderer and his movements, but Frank is the one living at the time when the crimes occur, so they have to operate in tandem to make things right.

The character of John is also a central factor in this film. In the first scene where we meet the adult John, he is breaking up with his girlfriend. The audience sees that the relationship he didn’t get to have with his father overshadow his current relationships. The teamwork between the two of them over the radio as they try to stop the killer seems to build for John that piece that was missing. This film makes the notable choice to have John keep his memories of both timelines as things change, so the entire experience has life-altering psychological implications for him. When they stop the bad guys for good, and adult John has both his parents again, it’s easy to tear up at the sight of John with a son of his own.

The way nature itself seemingly helps a father and son connect with each other in Frequency supports the themes in the film about family, about how important and strong it can be. Somehow reversing the loss of a parent is wish fulfillment at its highest level, of course, but the film is just an effective thriller overall. So much so it got adapted into a well-received television version in 2016, with the lead character of John gender-swapped to female Raimy. Screen entertainment boasts endless examples of stories that celebrate and examine the intensity of family bonds, and Frequency exists firmly on that wavelength.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Sexton lives in Ohio with her dog, Lily. Her favorite things are movies and books, and her hobby is editing fan videos.

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