Running on Empty


“Running on Empty” is an extraordinary film that captured the hearts of many audiences by portraying the warm evocation of family life and first love. Arthur and Annie Pope, a pair of 60s radicals who manages to escape from the FBI 16 years after a bomb attack in  the napalm lab as a sign of the Vietnam War protest which almost killed an innocent man. Both are a 17 year old Danny and 10 year old Harry; together they live a lifestyle which has no certainty and security as they constantly move around and establishing new identities. This has led to an abnormal development for both Danny and Harry, who can never have friends nor an academic record. Loyalties are finally tested when Danny meets a dedicated teacher from his new school and as well as falling in love with the teacher’s daughter, Lorna.  Although they may live in a life having to deal with many decisions and consequences of life, there are still many perspectives from the movie that we can learn and understand from.

Pope Family vs Philips Family

Despite the fact of the constant change and readjustment that the Popes have to face, I strongly salute Arthur and Annie for doing such a great job is bringing up their kids. The fact that both Arthur and Annie has different personalities, creates a balance in the family. Arthur is an authoritative, short tempered, but sometimes funny father figure; on the other hand, Annie is a gentle, understanding, and loving mother in the family. Together, they are able to strike a balance in the family, educating both Danny and Harry to look at things in the bright side and being there for them. When Arthur faces stressful times and takes out on the family, Annie is always the one that creates calmness in the family, finding solutions to make life easier for the whole family. Danny and Harry is all Arthur and Annie has, they struggle with empty nest syndrome as Danny falls in love with Lorna and decide to stay for this college education as well. The statement mentioned by Annie to Arthur, “What are we doing to these kids? They’ve been running their whole lives like criminals, and they didn’t do anything!” made both of them realize that its time to let go of Danny so that he can live his life for himself and not live under the consequences of his parents.

On the other hand, the Philips family portrays the total opposite from the Pope’s family. They seem perfect on the outside; perfect house, stable income and etc, but they do not the same warmth as the Pope’s family did. Despite the fact that Lorna has everything she wanted, she does not share the any intimate relationship with her family. She perceives her parents as being fake, judgmental and only wants to see and hear what they want to. This has led to Lorna finding love from another person that shares that father figure; Danny.


First love

As Danny begins to experience first love with Lorna in his new school, he struggles to choose between his parents and Lorna. Danny and Lorna broke the barrier when Danny begins sharing his secrets with Lorna, which produce the start of an intimate relationship between he two love birds. Danny soon understands that his family has no one else but only each other, he chooses to sacrifice himself to support and keep his family together.


Danny and Harry share a close siblings bond with each other. The fact that both of them can never amass a group of friends, or rather can never stick around long enough to develop a relationship with their friends, both of them are all they have. Although they may have small disagreements, such as when Danny is able to keep his piano sets when Harry was not able to keep his dog when they moved out from their home, but they always try to resolve it and look at things positively. The age difference may also contribute to the relationship bond that they share. 7 years difference indicates that Danny and Harry share nothing in common from their generation, but the fact that Danny adapts the responsibility as an elder brother to take care of his younger sibling.

Parents of Arthur and Annie

As seen in the movie, Arthur only finds out that his mum passed away due to cancer that he was not aware of. The fact that Arthur’s mum kept if a secret from him shows great love, as she wants to kept her child safe from the FBIs, knowing that he might come looking for her.

The other hear broken moment in the film is where Annie’s dad broke down when he realizes that he will never be able to see his child again after finally meeting her at a restaurant after 14 years! Annie chose to live with her own consequences, not wanting to involve her parents, jeopardizing their reputation and safety, but soon realizes that she needs their help to support Danny in his college education and finally decides to meet with her father to ask for help.

Both families have to live with the consequences of their children (Arthur and Annie), no contact at all and never given the opportunity to meet with their grandchildren. The families has a decision to turn their own children into the FBIs for  chance to at least meet them in jail, but they have shown great love towards them by not turning them in, believing that they are innocent and trusting that they will be able to see them one day.


Future & Decisions

Danny took a big risk when he decided to attend the audition by Juliard without his parents’ concern. With the influence of his music teacher, Mr. Philips, he realizes that he is talented and has a bright future ahead of him. When Annie found out about the audition, she struggles with Arthur knowing that if they allows Danny to go, they may never be able to see him again,  but if she allows him to stay, she is being selfish and just like her, throwing Danny’s future away. Annie, being an understanding mum, knowing that it is her own consequence to deal with and not Danny’s, decides to arrange for a better home and life for Danny with her parents. Arthur on the other hand, was reluctant at first, but realizes that he too has no right to limit his son’s freedom and late decides to let Danny go.

In my opinion, this film did great by capturing the attention of both the adults and teens by showing a realistic example of how family functions without much help. At the end of the movie, I believe taht the family did the right thing letting Danny go, but the fact that Harry still remains with them makes me wonder if they are doing the right thing. Can this affect Harry’s development without the support of his older brother? Can Annie and Arthur really continue supporting Harry? Should Harry follow Danny and stay with their grandparents? 


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