What does it mean to find your people?

Life lessons courtesy of The Mitchells vs. The Machines

In this edition of Scene & Heard, a weekly newsletter where a guest writer reflects on just one scene from a recent Netflix release, Megan Maurice finds a bridge between past and future in The Mitchells vs. The Machines — streaming now on Netflix.
Scene & Heard is part of Netflix Pause, a publication that’s all about hitting pause to reflect on the latest film and TV. Subscribe now to get three free newsletters in your inbox every week diving into screen culture.
Without further ado, the scene in question…

As I watched the animated film The Mitchells vs The Machines, my overwhelming thought was: “I have never related so much to a character who has lived through a robot apocalypse.” In case you were wondering, I have never lived through a robot apocalypse. 

Sometimes when I’m coaching netball I put my Apple Watch too close to my face while I’m shouting instructions and Siri seems like she’s going to start coaching the session for me, but that’s the closest I’ve come to an AI becoming sentient and taking over.

The film’s main character, Katie, has been looking forward to escaping her home town for years, but as her family drives her across the country to start film school in a last-ditch attempt at some family bonding, robots overthrow human society, leaving her family as unlikely heroes.

Despite all the excitement of fighting the robots and saving the world, it’s one of the final scenes — after normality has resumed — that’s stuck with me the most. Katie finally arrives at film school, ready to start her new life and meet “her people”. As they drive up, she gazes in wonder out the window.

Katie’s world is filled with little animations in everything she sees and as she looks at the building, there are rainbows springing from all corners. It’s a gentle nod to the rainbow flag badge she wears on her jacket throughout the film — a reminder that a character’s queerness doesn’t need to be the entire point of the story; it can just be who they are.

I was struck with a strong sense of déjà vu watching this scene. Many (many) moons ago, my own family drove me down to Canberra to drop me off at uni, where I was starting my new life. Just like Katie, I was excited to start understanding who I truly was.

As Katie’s dad gives her an awkward goodbye and wishes her luck in finding her people, she embraces him tightly and tells him “Dad, you guys are my people.”

Long after the film ended, I was still thinking about this. University is often the first time you feel like you’re on the precipice of something larger — the first chance you might get at spending time with people you’ve chosen, instead of those you’re forced together with for 6 hours a day in a stuffy school building. For queer kids especially, the desire to escape can feel desperate at times. Most teenagers feel like their family doesn’t understand them at one point or another, but when you’re coming to terms with who you are and who you love, it feels even more significant.

I didn’t become — or need to become — a new person; all those experiences and people in my life made me into who I was.

For me, it wasn’t just about my family: the whole image of myself that I’d carved out over many years didn’t feel like it fit anymore. I needed a clean slate, an opportunity to walk into a place where no one had any preconceived notions of who I was. 

It wasn’t until years later that I understood all the things I was trying to run away from were part of me as well. I didn’t become — or need to become — a new person; all those experiences and people in my life made me into who I was.

Fortunately for Katie, the robot apocalypse has fast-tracked that understanding and this final scene is filled with delightful little details that show her new appreciation of their bond. As she farewells her dinosaur-obsessed little brother Aaron, they bump their fingers together in a ‘raptor bash’ and tiny hearts spring from Katie’s raptor.

As she says goodbye to her dad, Katie reveals she has kept the wooden moose he gave her as a child when she was worried about missing home. The family joins together making moose noises, attracting plenty of looks from other students, but Katie is completely absorbed in it. It’s a beautiful, if slightly weird, way of showing that sometimes accepting who you are means embracing your past and dragging it with you into the future.

The loveliest moment comes right at the end of the scene — it’s something I remember well, standing in that car park in Canberra: the moment when you’re finally on your own, when the rest of the family piles into the car and the enormity of leaving home and growing up starts to settle upon you. I felt the biggest and smallest I have ever felt in my life, all at once.

I see those emotions reflected in Katie’s eyes as she watches her family drive away. As they go, rainbows fly overhead and underneath — a connection between the new world and the old. It’s the perfect reminder that “finding your people” doesn’t mean letting go of the ones who have always been there.

Megan Maurice is a freelance journalist and author from Sydney who writes predominantly about pop culture and women in sport. In 2021 she won the Pride in Sport Australia Positive Media Award for her story on inclusive rugby clubs.
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