Wednesday, July 21, 2010

{film} Woody Says It Better than Kirk

First, a marathon disclaimer.
1. My husband told me not to post this (he thinks he's my editor). He liked reading it but he had seen the film and said most people probably haven't. 
2. I know this could bore the brains out of some of you, or offend the rest of you who have a deep love for Kirk Cameron, so if that's the case come back tomorrow or the next day and I will have moved on from movies by little Jewish men. 
3. By the way I really love little Jewish men. Chaim Potok's books? Amazing. Life changing. Woody Allen films? Provoking. Brain Churning. I even named my son after a Jewish man. 
4. I'm not trying to have a go at Kirk Cameron or C movies, but I do tend to have less faith in them than those who think these films will bring about a revolution in marriage or saved souls or something. They probably do some good, for some people. I'll leave it at that.
5. I really enjoy watching a good film that makes me think... and then talking about it. 
6. There's not much of a forum for that where I live, and I can't very well send my little review to my old film prof from my college days, so the result is
7.  I'm posting it here.  
8. It's like I want to have a discussion about it, but I'm the only one talking, so bear with me.
9. Thank you

I watched a film by Woody Allen called Interiors (1978). It’s one of his less popular movies, receiving mediocre reviews but four Oscar nominations. I found this out after viewing it and finding much that moved me, then humbly realized I must not have much of a critical eye for such things, since the big whigs weren't that impressed. But the purpose of a good film is to draw you into a world and to move you in some way (to question, to see, to break through, to wonder, to grieve, to lament, to rejoice). And so I suppose in that sense this artist has done his job.

The story follows three daughters whose father has left their mother after three decades or so of marriage, and the way it severely affects their lives. The mother is a mentally unstable woman but an intensely artistic and successful one—yet her focus on the exterior in her work, her home, and most significantly in her relationships leaves her daughters crippled and hurting in their struggle to make their own lives and families.

One thing that stands out poignantly in this story about crumbling marriages and family relationships, as opposed to Kirk Cameron’s Fireproof (2008), is the lack of an attempt in the film to teach you something. A good story should, in its own right, take you to a place of reflection, of discovery perhaps. But a story with an agenda is oftentimes trite or just overtly preachy. And for many of us, this turns off our ability to be truly moved and changed.

In many ways, I think Allen’s film asks similar questions and explores some of the same content as Cameron's Fireproof (2008).There is the whole marriage issue. And beyond that is the portrayal of the Ego as god which is reflected upon in each of the characters, leading one to ask, is the love of self truly the way to happiness when it hurts and even destroys the selves around it? The father complains that it’s time for him to finally look to his own needs after all these years and he wants everyone’s support to do so, but he claims this right in the face of the tragic repercussions that follow. The eldest daughter and her husband pursue their careers as writers, but the husband is so torn apart by his inability to match the success of his wife that he lashes out in anger and jealousy and ultimately damaged pride, devouring the women around him in an attempt to feed his own diminished but increasingly hungry ego.

Even in the apparent supportive gestures of the successful daughter, we see that her inability to love others by seeking their greatest good is masked by her flattery and insincere compliments. Her love of her own trade and commitment to it, her laziness in wanting to help those who are struggling around her, leads her to offering pithy, weak comforts in order to hopefully assuage their pain. That, or she is simply ignorant to doing the hard work of speaking honest words in love, something most of us can relate to. Each of the people within her circle senses and even calls out this lack of honest feedback, which is something they need and crave more than a surface encouragement that is no balm to their truth seeking souls.

Over and above it all is the hollow mother. Spending hours perfecting the details of color and composition, form and aesthetic beauty, she cannot deal with the fragile but infinitely more important substance of the inner life. She backs away from emotion, from intimacy, from the warmth and vitality but also pain and sacrifice of relationships and we are unsure why. Is it because of sickness; an irregularity of mind and body that she cannot control? Is it because of choices she has made to unknowingly hollow herself out while buffering her exterior image? Is it because she is the inheritor of the faults of generations before her, raising her up with an inability to lavish love where it is most needed-- the heart and soul of another human being? Or is it all of these in their varying degrees? Again, something we too can relate to as we search for the why’s of the sins we are plagued by.

The daughters, the estranged husband, all are deeply affected by this tragic woman. And this too, I think is a reality of life that we often ponder. We don’t want to be affected by the fallenness of others; we want to rise above, to be walled off, to be “strong.” We also don’t want the guilt of our own fallenness and how it affects the people in our lives; we want them to bear their own responsibility and leave us to ours, to bury our guilt or pretend we are free of it just by saying so. But are we? Are they? Our families, our friendships, the way of the world since the beginning of time tells us this isn’t the way it works. And it’s not the way it works in Allen’s film either. The sin of each one are borne upon the lives of the others

Near the end, the middle daughter, staggering under the weight of giving so much sacrifice and time to her mother while never feeling approval or even much more than disdain from her, spills out her aching thoughts in a dark room, where the mother arrives unexpectedly in the night on the eve of her father’s remarriage at the family’s old seaside home. Pouring out her pain: the rejection, the despair, she ends with, “but I love you. And in the end we must forgive each other.” We sense a glimmer, a speck of light in the heavy darkness. But the stone exterior of the mother is cracked and she cannot bear it. She walks out of the room, down to the rough waters of an early morning sea, and disappears into it forever. 

The family is left, gaping with the tragedy of their mother’s broken life and the missing pieces of their own, longing to find a balm , a restoring thought or act that can move them beyond all they can’t understand. They muse over a simple, exterior memory. And as they wrap arms around one another, we are left hoping they find it in the bonding of their interior lives as well. 

Most importantly, we are left to ponder the ramifications and the intricacies of family relationships, even possibly the existence of such things as morality and a social outworking of it. We are not given tidy scripted stories that end in restoration and bliss after only 100 minutes. I am a believer in answers, but certainly they are not easily come to and the way there is often messy. This film offers a look at the mess, and if from there you go looking in the Right Places, (which I think Kirk, even in all his cheesiness leads you to) there can be great Hope in the end.

1 comment:

  1. So I stopped part way through so that I can sign up for it on netflix and return to truly engage the conversation after I have seen it. I am not so sure I really want to watch fireproof, I think I'll trust your assessment of that one. I am looking forward to joining the conversation: ) Love you.