On this day thirty years ago, Transformers: the Movie was released. On this day thirty years ago, Optimus Prime died.
Back in the 1980s, the idea of “spoilers” or “spoiler bombing” didn’t exist. The idea of ruining a movie by giving away one of the main plot points wasn’t truly a “thing”. Or at the very least, it wasn’t a thing with an actual name. We didn’t have a term for it in those days. However, in my case, the movie was spoiled and spoiled badly by my mother, who was happy to gloat that Optimus Prime was going to die. Even worse, she told me she didn’t want to see me crying in the theatre when it happened.
I wish I could say that when the big moment happened I had the good sense to not listen to my mother, to let the tears flow and mourn for someone who meant so much to me. However, I did not. I was a stubborn child and despite what my mother said–or perhaps because of it–I held back my tears and refused to let anyone see how upset I was at that moment.
That scene became symbolic for me, a hallmark from my childhood, an emblem of how there were things that I could not mourn, things that were wrong but I could not identify. It was a moment that resonated with me in a primal way but I couldn’t quite grasp as to why. Optimus Prime was always my second favorite character following Bumblebee. Seeing Prime die was a bit like knowing that my innocence would die as well.
Years later, it did. That was when everything clicked into place, why that scene hit me so hard.
Granted, in the time between I wept Optimus down; I had chances at other viewings of the film, away from my mother and in the relative safety of a convention or two. But when I realized why that scene was so difficult for me, it resonated.
When I learned that my childhood had been less than ideal, when I learned that what I had endured from my mother wasn’t simply discipline but abuse, it made sense. To a degree, I was watching my innocence die and I wasn’t able to mourn it. I knew deep down that something had always been wrong with my childhood but I wasn’t able to put words to it. I wasn’t able to properly understand it or grieve. Just like the young girl who sat silently in the theatre, suppressing the urge to sob as Optimus passed the Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus, I had been living in a sort of denial. When I learned the truth, I was finally able to put it into words what my childhood actually was.
I was finally able to mourn.
Thankfully, Prime’s death wasn’t a permanent thing; he was able to make a comeback later on in the series. And a bit like Optimus Prime, I was able to make a comeback myself. I’ve been learning to live within the confines of a new normal. I’ve been able to weep down and lament over the fact that my mother and I will probably never have a normal relationship. I’ve learned to let things go and start living. I’ve learned that in order to move forward, you have to give yourself time for your mental wounds to heal.
But still, thirty years later, I’ll sob when Optimus Prime speaks his final words: “Until that day… till all are one.”
Happy thirtieth, Transformers: the Movie. You have no idea the impact you made upon a young girl in North Carolina during the late summer of 1986. All that girl–now a grown woman–can say is thank you.