Friday, November 22, 2019

The Land of Make Me Believe in Something

"I'm broken." 

Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) speaks those words to Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), better known by his honorific, in one of their earliest conversations -- conversations that initialize as Lloyd interviewing Fred for a magazine piece but which quickly tumble into the latter plumbing the depths of the former's soul with no muss. Mr. Rogers looks at him, really looks at him, and it's like all the noise in all of the world fades away -- all there is is one person listening, really listening and caring about what he will hear, to another. The world's profoundest gift, that.

Fred was full of them, gifts I mean, but that was the biggie, and director Marielle Heller knows it and shows it, a storytelling sleight of hand that situates us in that seat across from that astonishing man, magically waving away everything else -- you really will feel like you're sitting there being listened to, being appreciated and loved, and man it's a kick in the pants in this world of ours to feel that coming at you. What a goddamned gift, this movie is.

Lloyd says, "I'm broken," and Mr. Rogers tells him he is not broken. He says that Lloyd is just a person who feels, who knows, what is right and what is wrong. The feelings of aggrievance just get the better of us -- the world is supposed to work one way, yet it rarely if ever does. Finding ways to manage that, to accept the flaws and imperfections, even the ones that have left dark marks on us, takes effort and practice and banging on the piano keys. It takes silence, and pause, and patience.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood slows its world to a crawl, and closes itself up into itself -- there could be twenty people in the cardboard world for Heller's purposes here and you, me and you, are among them. It's an airtight little fable of fingers linked in a gesture of friendship, one to one to one and on and on and on forever. Start small, with whomever is standing in front of you, and work from there. Revolutions, ones that matter in the long run, can really start with small gestures, interpersonal kindnesses -- just a full sixty seconds of silence in a busy restaurant gifting you with good thoughts.

I'm broken. That's, you know, me talking now. My mantra and prayer and my excuse for a static emotional landscape -- I repeat that to myself whenever things start hurting, allow it provenance over any actual self-examination. I'm a million jagged pieces and I don't know how to put anything anywhere. I would watch the movie about a man trying to forgive his ailing father while my own estranged father lays in a hospital bed somewhere, somewhere I can't bring myself to be. I don't know what to do with that, but it's there, like a howling wind in my head every single day. We are made of the good and the bad, built up on everything incongruous piece after piece after piece.

How do we forgive? When do we forgive? What is forgiveness? Is it for us, for them -- is there even a difference? And is there any set of questions any more human than these? Every relationship asks this of us, and as we grow older it only weaves and knots itself more thoroughly through every piece of our being and lives. Sometimes it seems as if every moment is itself forgiveness -- a breath, a pause, a step forward asking, begging, for the right to just keep going that way without the cacophony and weight of everything on our back ripping us down through the floorboards, into the dust and dirt.

Lloyd's wife reads the article he hands her and she tells him what he's come up with isn't even about Mr. Rogers, except it is -- I know her feeling. If you can find a way to disassociate this man and what he stands for from what you feel when you close your eyes and think upon your life bully for ya, but I can't. I was no doubt watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood on those afternoons when my father wasn't coming to pick me up for our bi-weekly visitations -- when the scars I scratch my fingers on today were first singed upon me. This movie, immediately and with great warmth, feels like it's a piece of my life -- a salve on those wounds, yes. But more. A way past.


Anonymous said...

Saw the movie this afternoon. Reading your review made me cry for the second time in one day. No one does these personal responses to movies better than you do.

Anonymous said...

Damn, guess I need to see this! Just want to say once again you’re Ana amazing writer. There’s stuff here better suited to a memoir than a movie review. I’d buy it.

Joe K said...

Really beautiful review and beautiful movie--you hit at all of its most vulnerable pieces so well. Saw this today, and wish the theater hadn't been so crowded so I'd have more space to ugly-cry.