I grew up in Carpentersville, Illinois, a suburb on what used to be the northwest edge of Chicagoland. It was as good a place to grow up as any, I guess, and I have mostly fond memories of it. I was absolutely mortified when C’Ville was the New York Times Magazine cover story on anti-immigrant politics – especially since I grew up in the eastern part of town, the very predominantly-Hispanic part of town that those dickheads were intent on demonizing. But in spite of my affection for C’Ville, Chicago-suburb set films don’t make me homesick, perhaps because the best-known “suburban Chicago films” – the John Hughes cycle, Chris Columbus’s stuff , and what my friend and Lansing, IL native Luke Mundo called “all that North Shore shit” – concern a very narrow strip of the region that looks and acts nothing like my old block on Papoose Road.

However, a couple of movies (and a television show) make me homesick: Fargo, A Serious Man, and Mystery Science Theater 3000.

MST3K, The Joel Episodes: Joel’s sleepy delivery reminds me of my friend John, perhaps the preeminent MFA-holding car mechanic in the Chicago suburbs. This creates a very strange kind of homesickness, one that combines the upper-midwestern accent of half of my family with the aw-shucks irony of one of my best friends from my teen years. I may be alone among academics, but I had a perfectly pleasant adolescence. Joel episodes are as close as I can get to experiencing the best parts of hanging out with my friends, only across the gulf of time.

Fargo: For the last ten years, I’ve not experienced a proper Midwestern winter. I spent two winters in New Hampshire, which was a good way to farewell the cold. I moved from New Hampshire to Nashville in May 2003 (and it snowed on the day I moved); Nashville could get cold, but not Illinois/Wisconsin cold. Christchurch is dank and unpleasant during winter, but it never hurts to go outside, nor does any trip require thermals, half an hour of warming up the car, scraping the windshield, and that painful sound of tyres packing down snow. I can’t say that I miss winter, but it’s easier to miss the rituals and shared pains of winter than it is the actual lived experience of it. I was in Illinois in January-February 2011, and the two blizzards during my stay, coupled with the face-numbing cold, convinced me that I actually kind of prefer not slogging through a “real” winter. But there’s something about seeing a horizonless white-grey image that stirs memories of driving up to Green Bay for Thankgiving or Christmas. This was the view from the backseat of our Pinto station wagon many a trip to Grandma and Grandpa Long’s:

And then there’s A Serious Man. On the one hand, the gloriously Kodachrome-y shots of Larry standing on his roof make me miss C’Ville’s suburban aesthetic.

The flatness, the not-quite-grown-in trees, the regularity of the pattern, all the things that, for example, my (New England 4H farm girl) wife found unsettling about the Midwest and suburbia are the things I remember most now that I live on the side of a hill looking out on the Pacific Ocean.

But while MST3K and Fargo both let me look back in time in the standard nostalgic homesickness kind of way, toward fond memories of C’Ville, the suburbs, and the Midwest. A Serious Man does something else entirely. It generates in me a feeling of what my life would have been like, had I been the adult me in the C’Ville of my youth. I was fairly interested in religion as a kid – George Carlin taught me to take what they said at Catechism seriously, because that was the best way to get laughs and make trouble (I also thought about going to seminary) – so when Larry the academic turns to the three rabbis to deal with his troubles, I can see a credible imagined past for an amalgamation of 1975-born Christian and a speculative 1955-born Christian. In other words, my ability to remember C’Ville, and growing up there, owes more to the Larry Gopnik I am now than to the John Bender-Brian Johnson mix I was.