Why You Should Watch Twister On Netflix This Fourth of July

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Why You Should Watch Twister On Netflix This Fourth of July

There was a pole on the playground of my elementary school, and I used to ask boys in my class if I could borrow their belt to play Twister. I did not have one because I wore husky jeans that did not require the additional support. If anyone would lend me one (which was not often), I would first tie myself to the pole, and then I would make one of my few friends pretend to be Helen Hunt, and I would hold onto them and kick up wood chips as if an F5 tornado was approaching overhead. I was, of course, recreating the heart-stopping climax of the 1996 blockbuster. I would do this for approximately 20 minutes of recess, and then I’d return the belt.

As an 8-year-old, I was very lonely, but man did I love Twister. The film, which is a Perfect Afternoon Cable Movie, is currently available on Netflix. On this Fourth of July, let’s draw attention to the fact that Twister includes all the things that I think define America: white people unnecessarily running directly into disaster, a fundamental misunderstanding of recycling, vague science, and Helen Hunt. Would I say that this is the pinnacle of what American can be? Excluding Helen Hunt, no. But if I could only choose one film to send to the United Nations to represent America as a culture, it would be Twister.

Director Jan de Bont brought this thriller to life in 1996, in the heyday of natural disaster films. The story follows Dr. Jo Thornton (Hunt), a storm chaser and meteorologist, as a band of tornados descend upon the Oklahoma area. She chose this career because as a child, she saw her father get sucked into a tornado powerful enough to rip him and a hinged door from the Earth, but not so powerful to suck up a small terrier standing approximately seven feet away.

Early on, Jo is reunited with her estranged husband Bill Harding (Bill Paxton), who has shown up with divorce papers because he wants to marry his new fiancĂ©e, Dr. Melissa Reeves (Jami Gertz). Since leaving Jo and her wild notions of storm chasing, Bill has also decided to become a TV weatherman, the Ed Sheeran of the meteorology community. Jo and Bill team up one last time to chase this mega storm and see if they can launch Jo’s newest experiment, DOROTHY I, into a tornado. If they can, small tracking sensors will help map a tornado’s trajectory and change the study of weather forever.

While this all seems absurd, what makes this so American is that it’s actually based on a real mission where storm chasers in the ’70s and ’80s tried to deploy a similar mechanism called TOTO. It did not work. However, Helen Hunt did gift the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory with a photograph of herself signed, “All my thanks, Helen.”

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Continuing to harness only American vibes, Twister introduces Bill’s slightly less attractive rival Dr. Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes), who has the same idea as him and Jo. Patents? Not in this America! It’s just whichever inflated ego can throw a giant canister of sensors into the sky first. Unfortunately, the DOROTHY I is not working as planned. The mechanism is destroyed after an unsuccessful launch because tornados, despite the initial hypothesis, do not just politely pick up buckets full of sensors and pull them into the funnel. For a film featuring three people with doctorate degrees who have cursory understanding of physics, this is a pretty big oversight.

Cut back to Dr. Melissa Reeves—remember, she tagged along to get her boyfriend’s divorce papers signed, nothing else. Understandably, after seeing one flying cow and a decimated drive-in theater, she tells Bill that this is not her fucking scene, leaving Jo and Bill to be together. If you want to drive into a tornado under the guise of “science,” Jami Gertz would like to be left out.

No matter how many tornados have destroyed the lives of those in Jo’s orbit, she maintains that they have to get these sensors into the sky. Inspired by the wind chimes from her aunt’s destroyed home, Jo comes up with the plan for DOROTHY II: take torn up pieces of aluminum cans, recycle them into baby Coke can wings, and attach them to each sensor. While this should help them “fly,” it also completely ignores the ecological footprint that comes along with launching hundreds of torn up aluminum cans into the ecosystem. It’s such an incredibly American move to suggest that recycling means “eh, use it twice and see what happens.”

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In the final scenes, Dr. Jonas and his entire fleet of sleek black minivans are destroyed and blown up in the path of a tornado. After criticizing his team as reckless for driving in the path of the storm, Jo and Bill decide they too should drive their truck into the tornado. This is the only way they’ll be able to launch DOROTHY II. They put the truck on cruise control, drive it toward a tornado, and bail out in the middle of a cornfield, managing to outrun the F5 monster in the process. Note: it took me three and a half hours and two farm attendants to escape a corn maze last year, but sure.

By the time they get to the barn, it’s too late though. Jo and Bill are stranded directly in the path of this F5 tornado, so the pair of them attach towing belts to a pipe, ignore what little scientific legitimacy this film has left, and hold on long enough to survive being whipped around inside one of the most powerful tornados that Oklahoma has seen in its history. Then they decide not to sign their divorce papers, meaning Dr. Melissa Reeves destroyed one of her nicest eggshell pantsuits for nothing.

Is this a very long description of a very flimsy plot? Sure. But if that’s not America, what is? Twister is Twister because it features pseudo-science and the concept that being ignorantly courageous is more admirable than being intelligently cautious. It also features an incredible, accompanying music video from Shania Twain.

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On this Fourth of July, when barbecues and celebrations may be curtailed because of COVID-19, we have the benefit of looking inward and celebrating what best encapsulates the soul of our nation: grandiose arrogance and the penchant to make big things go boom. And even though there’s a lot that can be better about our country, I like to believe there is another other eight-year-old out there who has tied himself to a playground pole with a belt. I like to believe that kid still believes in this grand experiment we call America. He’s a bit heftier than the other kids. He lives for the drama of it all. And he knows that while America still has a long way to go, there’s still a bit of fun that can be wrung out of this messy, often uninformed country. That’s what this film stands for.

God Bless Helen Hunt and God Bless Twister.

Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.

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