Log Line

An advertising executive who loses his job in a fit of self-focused righteous anger embarks on a motor-home-based vagabond journey to "find himself"—with his wife in tow.


Medium: Film

Writer(s): Albert Brooks, Monica Mcgowan Johnson

Director(s): Albert Brooks

Production Co.(s): Marty Katz Productions; The Geffen Company

In Lost in America, the main character, David Howard, is an executive at a large advertising firm in Los Angeles. His wife, Linda, is a personnel director at another company. And although they enjoy the trappings of a moderately affluent modern lifestyle, neither feels a comfortable sense of happiness in those trappings, and both are possessed of a soulful-but-unspoken emptiness that renders them dissatisfied with life. While David trudges dutifully up a corporate ladder that he imagines will lead to a kind of temporal heaven, Linda finds herself sinking into despair—gradually coming to the depressing realization that the path they are on is empty in the deepest sense of the word.

When we first meet David and Linda, each in his or her own way is truly "lost."

When the story opens, David stands at the threshold of what he believes to be a major promotion at his firm. He is so sure of the promotion, in fact, that he and Linda have already sold their house and prepared to move to a larger house, and he has begun the search for a Mercedes Benz automobile to go with his new, higher-on-the-ladder lifestyle. When he discovers that the promotion is not to be his—and that the position has gone to someone whom he considers less deserving—he erupts in an outburst that gets him unceremoniously fired.

Rather than mourn the loss of his job, David embraces it as a chance for himself and Linda to break away from the lifestyle that has left them feeling trapped. He convinces her to quit her job and join him as a societal dropout, to liquidate their assets and embark with him on a motor-home-based adventure across America—the purpose of which will be to "find themselves."

Complications soon arise when at their first stop (in Las Vegas) Linda gambles away the entirety of their assets in a single night, exposing them to a financial vulnerability for which they did not plan. And the problems that arise from that vulnerability lead to a rapid descent that lands them in what appears to be their ultimate destination—a trailer park in the small southwestern town of Safford, Arizona.

At first glance, the theme of the story seems to have a multitude of potential issues. The opening shots, for example, reveal a house full of accumulated "things"—symbols of a modern, affluent life, all boxed and ready for a move to another social station. And their initial, late-night conversation revolves, in part, around the value of responsibility as a defining human characteristic. The "things" may be viewed as inhibiting baggage, and the talk of David's responsible nature—which he takes as an insult—may seem to signal that the story is about responsibility or the shedding thereof.

But the theme of the film is not about discarding or accumulating baggage. Nor is it about taking on or abandoning a sense of responsible behavior. Likewise, although it contains references to freedom, expectation, and the keeping of promises, it is not about those matters, either.

The story at its core is about a special subset of personal discovery that goes by the name of "finding oneself."

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