Friday, December 11, 2020

What is Left in Our Wake

Betrayal is a word that pops up again and again in Steven Soderbergh's melancholic reunion film Let That All Talk, now on HBO Max, which sees a threesome (not a foursome, not a fivesome, and not even an orgy) of old friends -- played by Meryl Streep, Dianne Wiest, and Candice Bergen -- gathering together for the first time in decades for a little Transatlantic crossing. Roberta (Bergen), whose real life was mined for the book that made Alice (Streep) famous, uses it the most. But we also see Susan (Weist), the type of friend who always ends up caught in the middle of the bigger warring personalities, spell the word out on a Scrabble board -- Susan's usage is excited, gleeful; she scored a lot of points off of that word!

And betrayal is a word that's been on the tip of my tongue over the past few weeks as well, as I've come into the knowledge that one of my closest friends from college has morphed inexplicably into a full-fledged Trump-supporting Q-Anon believer. I'd been averting my eyes from the mini-quakes that were pointing towards this revelation regarding her pre-election -- just because who had the emotional strength for anything pre-election? -- but once it was safe to poke our heads out from under Our National Nightmare again I peeked back that way and found, with legitimate horror, what my friend has become. 

She's all in, on toppling the election and upending Democracy, on professing a love for the hateful and homophobic Ted Cruz, on screeching anti-Trans screeds -- this was a person who went out and danced with me at the gay clubs when I first came out, held my hand when I cried about my first break-ups, and preached more than nearly anyone I knew a gospel of love and acceptance. I don't recognize my friend anymore -- two weeks ago I asked her where that girl had gone and she said, basically, good riddance. 

So my heart, it is a little broken. I am angry, and yes I feel betrayed. The last couple of weeks, dark though they may be with disease and Republican lies, have been filled with some optimism -- with the vaccines inching forward and Biden's inauguration tip-toeing towards us a little light emerges -- but I keep finding myself dig into that word. Betrayal. It's a balloon that sets itself up in your belly and lets you blow, blow, blow, until it pushes everything else aside. I keep looking at my friend's Instagram and making myself sick about it. Her poison spreads. My memories of the happiest seasons shake just a little -- was there truth in those moments, an ineffable truth that escapes what came of them? Can I still hold them so tight?

All of this was on my mind anyway but Soderbergh's film feels deeply of this moment, this shared experience -- of a time where so many of us are being forced to look across the table, or into our pasts, and recontextualize formative, important relationships with these reams of new and boggling information. I know this is happening across the country, to thousands, hell hundreds of thousands of people, and has been for several years now. For some people it's even closer -- I can't imagine what it's been like for my friend's husband, to witness this personality transplant so very up-close. 

Let All of Them Talk is about this and it isn't -- it's very funny for one thing; I don't want y'all to think you're wandering into some despairing drama. Streep, Wiest, Bergen, Lucas Hedges, Gemma Chan, these are beautiful funny charming people to ride a beautiful boat across the ocean with, and Soderbergh leans easy and clean into all of their strengths as performers. I especially loved all of his long close-ups on Hedges just listening to people -- what an expressive and curious face that actor has; watching him react felt at times like we were learning more about what was happening then we would have gotten from listening to the people doing the talking.

But for all the film's light energy there's this undercurrent of sadness and yes, betrayal, that it is thankfully never afraid of; that it leans into with the most simple and straightforward bursts of humanity, honesty. It lets them talk, yes, but the film listens -- it really truly listens. It is openly engaged with the concept of listening to someone -- hence those close-ups on Hedges -- and how what people say, what they are truly saying, affects those who listen; who truly listen. As the popular self-help rhetoric goes "communication is a two-way street," but that doesn't mean you travel back and forth over the same patch of road forever. Quite often we're picked up and carried unto places we didn't expect or want to go, and there's just simply no way back to where we came from.


par3182 said...


Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry about your old friend. It's a sour note on which to end a lousy year, and I wish you didn't have to go through it. For now, focus on all the people who still make you happy and are there for you, and remember that it's not your job to make that one person come to her senses. For every person who preaches love and acceptance and later turns out not to believe it, there are at least a hundred others who do believe, whether they preach or not.

ferretrick said...

I'm so sorry about your friend. I'm dealing with the same with a loved one.

You don't know this yet, but your friend has literally been brainwashed by a cult. That is what Q'Anon is, not exaggerating. The only difference between it and the Moonies is it's online. Q'Anon is unbelievably strong and growing scarily. I can't tell you what to do about your friend, but some people do come out of this if you can hang in there. IT ain't easy.

If you need support, check out the Q'Anon Casualties board on Reddit. We are over 50,000 members and growing rapidly-friends and family who have lost loved ones to the Q'Anon cult. We share our stories and support each other-some of us have even "met" via Zoom. Trust me, your story is nothing new to me. I've heard of 40 year marriages ending, parents disowning children and vice versa, etc. I'm not going to say it's not your friend's fault this happened, because you have to let this shit in in the first place, but it does suck people down quickly. It is straight up brainwashing.

You can reach out to me for more help via email if you like.

Shawny said...

You should read up about the psychological term cognitive dissonance. It perfectly describes the mental gymnastics trump followers are experiencing. They have to force their perspective in order to create consistency for their mind. People have such a strong investment in their political identity, they will go very far to fabricate consistency. It is the consistency that is more important than accuracy.

Mike Johnson said...

This year has really separated the good from the bad. Facebook used to be an oasis to catch up with friends, but I don't recognize many of them through all the vitriol and hate.

To the movie...I treasured the big three performances. Bergen, especially, has rarely been as loose and real as she is here. And Queen Meryl, whose fantastic movie "The Prom" dropped the very next day, is at her royal best.

However, the movie angered me. It felt lazy. These are powerhouse performers at the height of their powers. Give them some meat. Gemma Chan is a lovely performer, but her part could have been excised altogether, saving us 30 minutes with a character who doesn't play into the big plot.

I would watch Bergen, Streep, and Wiest read the phone book together while Hedges reacts to these queens on the side. That would have been better than this mess. I still hope Bergen gets awards attention. She's that good.