Click here if you don’t see subscription options
John DoughertySeptember 15, 2023
Photo of a newly married couple holding handsiStock

The Catholic Movie Club is a short weekly essay pulling out spiritual themes in our favorite films. You can discuss the movies with other readers in the comments on this page or in our Facebook group. Find past Catholic Movie Club selections here.

What if you could do it all over again? That’s a question we’ve all asked, at one time or another. The years go on and there’s a certain grief in realizing that your life has more or less taken shape, with so many other possible avenues now closed off and lost. So you wonder: what if you could relive a time of your life that was ripe with possibility? Explore some of those alternate paths and discover where they lead. Maybe fix some mistakes along the way.

This is what Peggy Sue learns: we all want a second chance at the past, but the real second chances only happen in the here and now.

That’s the opportunity Peggy Sue Bodell (Kathleen Turner) gets when she faints at her 25-year high school reunion and wakes up in the spring of 1960, her senior year. She’s had plenty of time over the intervening two-and-a-half decades to reflect on what she would have done differently in her life. She got pregnant and married her high school sweetheart, Charlie (Nicolas Cage), right after graduation; now their children are grown and their marriage is crumbling. “Peggy Sue Got Married” (1986), directed by Francis Ford Coppola and written by Jerry Leichtling and Arlene Sarner, follows Peggy as she attempts to discover if she can—or should— change her future.

Despite its high concept premise, “Peggy Sue Got Married” largely avoids fretting over timeline paradoxes and remains grounded in the emotional experience of returning to one’s youth (it would be a good companion piece with “Back to the Future,” a previous Catholic Movie Club selection). The most powerful moments come from Peggy Sue experiencing things that, for the rest of us, are lost to time. She returns to her childhood room, every object full of bittersweet and almost sacred meaning; she spends time with her now-deceased grandparents, and seeks their comfort and guidance one more time.

Likewise, Peggy Sue’s attempts to do things differently aren’t of the history-altering variety. Instead, she chooses to be a little kinder, a little more adventurous; to cherish the time she has with the people she loves, knowing that it’s limited. This clarifies for her what, and who, really matters in her life. As her grandmother tells her: “Right now, you’re just browsing through time. Choose the things you’ll be proud of. Things that last.”

In the end, the biggest change she makes is not in the past but in the present: granting a measure of forgiveness to the person who’s hurt her the most. In my “Back to the Future” reflection, I wrote about memory as a spiritual practice and how reflecting on the past can make us more attentive to the present. “Peggy Sue Got Married” offers a similar lesson. If God speaks to us through our heartfelt desires, then maybe what we’re really hearing is not a desire to change the past but a call to change the present. The good news is that we can do that without time travel. This is what Peggy Sue learns: we all want a second chance at the past, but the real second chances only happen in the here and now.

“Peggy Sue Got Married” is streaming on the Criterion Channel and available to rent or buy on Amazon and AppleTV+.

The latest from america

When I learned Joe Biden had dropped out of the race, my mind immediately shot back to Feb. 11, 2013, when another Catholic leader, Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world by announcing that he would voluntarily resign his post.
Pilgrims sing along with the Catholic musician Matt Maher during the July 20, 2024, revival night of the National Eucharistic Congress at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)
It was stunning to see that the 10th National Eucharistic Congress had achieved one of its principal aims—Eucharistic coherence.
Paul J. SheltonJuly 21, 2024
President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference on July 11, 2024, in Washington. President Joe Biden dropped out of the 2024 race for the White House on Sunday, July 21, ending his bid for reelection following a disastrous debate with Donald Trump that raised doubts about his fitness for office just four months before the election. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
President Joe Biden dropped out of the 2024 race for the White House on Sunday, ending his bid for reelection.
Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis greets congress-goers following the final Youth Mass of the National Eucharistic Congress on July 20, 2024. (OSV News photo/Gretchen R. Crowe)
Discomfort disappeared as quickly as it had come, and I found a community of belonging and belief. We all have a place here at the National Eucharistic Congress.
Eric Immel, S.J.July 20, 2024