Personal Context and Movies

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to dislike the movie Birth.

The main one is the creepy burgeoning relationship between Nicole Kidman's character and a 10 year old boy. No, it never crosses the line, but they do discuss sex, and behave in other completely inappropriate ways.

The other is the fact that the characters all seem socially retarded. As though none of them has ever been around a child, and they have no idea how to react to one. As though they have never been presented with a preposterous story and had to engage their minds to question it in more than the most shallow way.

Some folks found the pacing too slow, but that didn't bother me. I thought that the pace was as elegant as the cinematography and music - which was stunning. I re-watched the opening scene twice after the film was over.

The acting was powerful, though there were times when the dialogue seemed to be trying too hard to sound like Mamet and came off as choppy and tongue-tied. Unsure if that was a problem with the script or the actors.

Some folks were bothered by what they perceived as loose ends, but I didn't care that the ending is not neat.

In fact, there was much about the film that I enjoyed... but on the whole, my gut instinct is deep, visceral hatred. Yes, I hated this movie. I avoided watching it for a long time, because I knew I would hate it - but then I read something about it which intrigued me. (A review which said it was neither a con artist story nor a reincarnation movie.)

I should have simple passed on it.

You see, I am a widow. About the same length of time as Nicole Kidman's character, Anna - ten years. Like Anna, it took me several years to even begin dating again. My own grief was complicated by the fact that my husband as also a complete bastard (and that's being nice about it)... but I can relate strongly to the character.

I knew how much this child showing up just as she was ready to marry another man would destroy her. I knew how hard it would be. In fact, I saw it as a metaphor for the feelings that would come up in her as she prepared to marry - that the husband she thought she had finally let go of would come back and "haunt" her and she would behave in a foolish manner and even think of running away.

But what pissed me off was having her interact with this child as though he were an adult. It's one thing to believe that the kid is her husband. I can imagine being faced with this. I cannot imagine, from that point, discussing sex with this child. Allowing this child to take off his clothes and bathe with me. Allowing a kiss that has the tenderness of a lover. It simply would not happen. I would want to keep the child in my life, yes - but I would not consider making this kid my partner.

Crossing that line makes her entirely unsympathetic. Not only because of the pedophilic implications - but because it makes her weak. In fact, she doesn't grow or change. At the end of the film, she's still hung up on him, and has not been able to move on. She's crippled by her grief. I want to slap her and tell her she's not the only widow in the world. I want to medicate her. I want her to grow the fuck up and stop being a selfish, whiny little nit.

This reaction interested me, because I think it's the first time I've disliked a film because of my personal relationship to it. I've loved movies irrationally before.

I love The Long Kiss Goodnight, because it strikes a chord with me. I spent most of my life as an adventurer, traveling and pursuing goals that most people never consider. I may not have been an assassin (was never that cool!) but I definitely lived in a way that was antithetical to the PTA-mom universe. And part of me longed for that world. Part of me wanted to just put my past aside, pretend it didn't happen, have a kid and bake cookies. I make great cookies. And she's eventually able to integrate this other side, and live happily as uber-mom... Well, I do admit that the fact that I had taken a few magic mushrooms before watching it the first time may have enhanced my sense of the films profundity. (What? I was in Prague. It was legal.)

Another film I have an irrationally soft spot for is The Fifth Element. This was a decent movie. I recognize that it's not fantastic. That it's a fun ride and entertaining - and for most people not much more... but the circumstances under which I watched it the first time mean that it effected me profoundly. No, I wasn't tripping - I was grieving.

My husband and I were staying at a friend's place in the country, and I had to go into the city to work. I slept in the office at the bar where I was the head chef, because the commute was too long... I was scheduled for three days of double shifts over the weekend, and then he was going to come into Prague and we would go watch the movie together Sunday night.

Instead, our friend came to see me at work on Saturday to tell me he'd died.

Dazed, I went to see the movie a few days later. Sitting in the back of the balcony, in a mostly empty theater, I knew my husband would have thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I was moved deeply by the message that the fifth element is love. I cried a lot. And the movie still affects me more than it reasonably should.

But that's part of the wonder of art. As a poet, I long ago stopped worrying about whether people understood what I was trying to say - and became more interested in whether they came away from a poem touched or moved in some way. The poems became less about expression and more about connection. A movie becomes a collaboration with the audience. They receive it according to their interests, knowledge, abilities, circumstances - and transform it into a personal experience that makes it unique to them.