In Rachel Getting Married (2008), Anne Hathaway plays Kym, who is released from rehab in order to go to her sister Rachel’s wedding, which takes place at the home of her father, Paul and step-mother, Carol. The particular scene I’ve chosen illustrates what happens when a parent doesn’t or won’t acknowledge his or her proper share of accountability and responsibility; the child is then left holding all of the guilt, until such point that as an adult, the child comes to her own inner understanding as to how things really were.
Terrence Malick’s latest film, The Tree of Life, comes out this week on DVD. Beginning with its opening quotation from The Book of Job, through its 15-minute visual history of the universe, to its cryptic ending, this is a film that invites questions about “meaning” as well as the writer/director’s intent.
Admirers and critics have written extensively about the film’s “message” — search the Internet and you’ll find hundreds of comments that describe particular scenes and discuss their symbolism. While many viewers seem perplexed by this movie, to me it offers a fairly straight-forward New Age message about life, death and the source of true consolation during the grieving process.
In this next series of posts, I’m going to take scenes from a number of films to explore various aspects of mother-daughter relationships. It can be helpful to take stock of how we were mothered, how we’ve complied with and/or rebelled against the woman who raised us (or was supposed to and didn’t). Also it is useful to identify the beliefs and messages that get handed down to us, often coming down through generations. Not only can these realizations help point the way to our own individuation (becoming fully ourselves), it can also help us to not pass on our “family legacies” unconsciously.
Like many good films, books or conversations, independent filmmaker Doug Block’s “The Kids Grow Up” can stimulate our own self-inquiry, leading us to ask ourselves questions about where we are with the topic presented. More than supplying answers, these kinds of works elicit personal examination, much as Block did in his excellent documentary, “51 Birch Street,” examining his parents’ marriage. In “The Kids Grow Up,” he provides an interesting road map of the terrain of one of mid-life’s milestones: when our kids leave home. One of the many questions this film poses is what our lives as parents are going to be like after this bittersweet passage.
Even though this film was made in 1999, and took place in 1969, many of the themes covered in A Walk on the Moon are still relevant for some women and some relationships today. Set in the 60’s, a time of change, this film poses questions of unlived lives, longing, sacrifice, duty, and choice. Our characters grieve for what cannot be, explore new territory, and experience initiations.
In Part I, I wrote about ideas of lost love and creativity; here are some film examples of creativity after loss. I believe our quality of life is enhanced by our ability to feel our whole range of emotions, including our grief. It is challenging to be a fully feeling human being, but being so allows us more access to our creativity and depths.
Certain films point to the creativity that can follow in the aftermath of an impeded, unrequited or lost love, or simply a love that just doesn’t work out. Sometimes a juncture is reached in a relationship in which it can go no further, whether through death, divorce, rejection, betrayal, circumstance or choice. There are various ways we can react to such loss and grief. We can be in denial, numb out, avoid our pain through addiction of any sort (including busy-ness), become stuck in the past, or try to find another “love object” ASAP, among other things. We can sublimate, or something new can emerge
In Part I, we saw big changes in Pleasantville, now: the Mayor tries to regain control of the situation by organizing a town hall meeting. He represents the fascistic part of our Super-Ego clinging on to old value systems for dear life by rallying defense mechanisms.
This part rejects, banishes, and excludes those aspects of ourselves that bring up unwanted painful and shameful emotions in order to keep things comfortable and “pleasant.”
The Shadow is whatever is unconscious, repressed, unlived or hidden in our psyches. One of the purposes of depth psychology is to “bring to light” these aspects of ourselves so that we can digest and integrate them, and so become “whole.” The film, “Man on the Train” (French, 2002), illustrates the aspect of Shadow centered around the unlived life.
Unbearable grief as portrayed in the film Rabbit Hole (2010), starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest.