Tuesday, December 10, 2019

I Can't Spell Away This Hurt

My father showed up at my elementary school sobbing one day to drag me out of my third grade classroom. I hadn't seen him in months and I had made it my mission statement to refuse to -- as an adult one is supposed to say that "he'd left my mother for another woman" but to that kid there in that classroom, head down and stomach sick every day, my father had left the both of us. Friendships withered on the vine, my mom and me were for all intents and purposes homeless -- I wasn't too concerned with his feelings while his pregnant fiancée-to-be-once-the-paperwork-went-through lingered in the background, a triumphant scowl on her face.

How much of that was me and how much of that was the me my mother had weaponized? Every day I was told what a monster my father was, and he surely was -- it was impossible not to believe it, then and now, looking back on how he skipped our court-enforced visitation dates whenever he felt like it, leaving me sitting on the curb like a pre-teen jackass. I had my feelings and I stood by them, my own triumphant possession -- three and a half decades later I stand beside them, them pressing in at all sides. This rupture, this wood beam buckling at the base of me, shattered and reshaped my foundation -- my mistrust and disillusionment, my cynicism and timidity, self-consciousness, baked into the meat of my person. I am all of their mistakes poured into human form.

It was impossible not to drag this human shaped shape along with me into the theater with Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach's funny and emotionally brutal spin on, as Tammy Wynette phonetically euphemized, D-I-V-O-R-C-E. Baumbach also spells out the hurtin' words, one excruciatingly paused letter at a time -- all the better to draw the process out unto everybody's rictus-grinned oblivion, insane tears smattering their eyeballs, the only place such ruptures feel nice and comfy and at peace. Home is where the broken hearts are, whether half a town or an entire country apart -- there's no going back to the people we were before what happened happened, and all we can do is walk around on our legs like living things for awhile, until we don't. If somebody will tie our shoes for us as we do all the better but we'll no doubt stumble through either way.

But even though I can't help but instinctively look at D-I-V-O-R-C-E through a kid's eyes Marriage Story isn't too concerned with its kid's point of view -- Henry (Azhy Robertson) is a tousle-haired pain in the ass; a football with vaguely nudged toward feelings that everybody wants their hands on, an instinct Baumbach can't help but turn into a bit of a punchline. He already told this story from the kid's point of view once with The Squid and the Whale so he gets a pass, and as Ray Liotta's character says at one point all Henry is saying is what his parents want to hear anyway. This one's for the (semi) adults in the room.

As such it's warm and generous beyond my personal capabilities towards its big folks -- Marriage Story spins back and forth, side to side, batting at the impossibilities of this stupid love affair even as it caresses, softly, its every hard curve and selfishly jagged edge. That's a lot of learning what being a grown up is, anyway -- learning about the importance of selfishness in this world. About how much is too much and how much is just right; how much space our human shaped shapes are allowed to take up, and how much we expect everybody else's to take up around us. We make room for our individualized disasters, or we don't. There's always another empty place to punch a hole through and start, as they call it, fresh.


JWB said...

I really loved it. It seems to be getting torn apart on twitter, which I think is a bit unfair. I though Adam Driver was outstanding (as always) as the jerk who slowly realises that he's to blame.
In a just world Merrit Weaver would be getting just as much awards chatter as Laura Dern, I can't stop thinking about her in this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Really appreciate (and look forward to) your responses to/ reflections on movies that you love--and hate.

Scott said...

That last paragraph is (especially) good stuff. Thank you for putting that so well.