Like any good buddy comedy, “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” is about bringing together two totally opposite characters. But there are other, more subtle pairs of opposites that can subconsciously affect your response to the movie, even if it takes a few viewings to consciously recognize them.
For example, Neal and Del’s disastrous road trip is accompanied by two motel stints – first, when Del buys a room for a reluctant Neal, and then, when Neal voluntarily invites Del out of the cold. This gesture of kindness shows just how far their relationship has come, and director John Hughes reinforces that impression with a happily infectious scene of the couple joking, laughing and drinking together. Their lively dialogue parallels Neal’s earlier monologue about all the reasons he hates Del. On their first night together, Del buys himself a beer and spills it all over the bed, leaving poor Neal to spend the night in a puddle of booze. On their last night together, they share drinks from the minibar, a symbol of friendship as old as it gets.
The final element of parallelism is pure visual storytelling, letting the setting influence our response to action. The first motel room is shabby and cramped, with a cool color scheme that reflects Neal’s cold demeanor. The final motel room is set up like a cozy log cabin, with the warm browns of the walls and wooden furniture saying as much as any dialogue.