Welp, I definitely need to see this movie now. Less because of anything I read about the movie itself than about its director, Jodie Foster:
She made clear to me that she was sharing that story only because it couldn’t embarrass her mother, who has advanced dementia.
“Everything I have to say on that subject, I said that night,” she told me, acknowledging that some people remained puzzled. “I can be vague. Vague is moving to me.”
They’re “solitary characters who don’t have mothers and fathers and boyfriends,” she told me, and they demonstrate her desire, when acting, “to have an experience that’s all mine, and I don’t really want to share it.” “Yet I’m totally desperate to communicate it to you,” she said. “It’s a really weird dichotomy. And I think that’s me in life.”
I find tremendously frustrating the veneer my peers adopt as they grow older and become adults — the “everything’s fine” veneer. When one or both of your parents are dying, everything’s not fine, okay? Everything is not fine. But there’s this pressure to pretend like it is. People close up and if you didn’t get to know them when they were open your chance is gone. All you’re ever going to get is that proprietary smile of fine-ness. Nothing to see here.
Except there is. There always is. So to see an adult woman owning up to that is refreshing. Like Stephen Colbert in his startlingly earnest interview of last year, she didn’t need to open up like this. As she herself points out,
“There are only so many steps I can take to protect people I love. There’s only so much I can do to keep them safe. It’s kind of a horrible feeling to know that if somebody’s close to you, you put them in danger of being hurt, of being sullied — trivialized — just by virtue of knowing you.”
Guardedness makes sense (guardedness, I stress — not the fakery that so vexes me). But she lays it aside to say these things though it is not incumbent upon her to do so.
More adults should do that. The best of them do. I think of all the times my mom explained to me what this lyric in a song meant (“sometimes people just don’t love each other anymore”), or how the brain damage after a car accident felt (“I woke up and suddenly I wasn’t smart anymore”); or of other people who’ve told me what having a child or losing a loved one really felt like, and honestly, none of them had to level with me like that. I was never in a bad enough place to need that kind of honesty; to require it as some kind of reward for persisting. I was always doing okay.
But maybe that’s because I didn’t have to subsist on the lie that everyone else was doing better than okay. Maybe it’s because people leveled with me that I was able to remain so level. But the number of people I know willing to do that is shrinking. People are growing up and growing thick hides; shallow smiles. They are growing into longer silences.* It’s upsetting.
I want to see Jodie Foster’s movie just to give whatever tiny part of my ticket money to someone who isn’t afraid to be open like that. Despite having very good reason — more than most of us — for wishing to remain closed.
*I guess I should add that this may just be my perception. And I may even fall into the same behavior patterns. I know 20-somethings who get divorced sometimes feel like they’re diseased — everyone avoids them, like failed marriage is contagious. I think it may be like that, at this age, with sick parents, too. Nobody else’s parents are sick yet. So no one knows what to say when they hear about mine. Nor do they then feel comfortable sharing their own frustrations with me, it seems like, because here they are with healthy functioning parents who love each other, and whatever else is going wrong in their lives seems awkward to mention around someone who fields calls from her father about her mother refusing to bathe or use the toilet or eat. So then people just close up like clams. And then I feel like I should too, out of fairness to them, because who wants to hear my sob story? The only two people who actively responded to my despair re: parents were both my supervisors, many decades my senior, both of whose parents got this same disease. One is gone and one is going away. It’s terribly lonely. Made the more so by the fact that you cannot express your wrath when someone describes a bad day they had, and you compare it to your bad days which end with your mother almost killing herself or the dog and your father furious with her. It’s infuriating to hear about people whose parents are well whine about petty shit. But they’re allowed to. There is no lowest common denominator to sadness. So the only solution seems to be silence all round. It sucks. Because you do end up pretending, however lame and last-ditch the effort is, that everything is fine. When it’s not.