Sunday, July 16, 2006

movie reviews (not as much of a departure as it sounds)

Okay, these movie reviews do relate to my normal blog topics. I am writing about The Celebration and The Constant Gardener. First, though, ex-pat Teacher Dude was nice enough to write about me in his blog

A while back I watched my boyfriend's favorite movie, The Celebration. Rather than launching into the plot of this movie, I should start with a description of its philosophy. The Celebration was the first movie made by a group of Danish directors who call themselves Dogme 95. Dogme 95 directors sign a "Vow of Chastity", 10 rules of moviemaking that include using only hand-held video cameras, and no props, sets, special lighting, or added sound. The group is opposed to "illusions, and dramaturgical predictability."

I thought the subject of this movie, a man confronting his abusive father at a family reunion, lent itself amazingly well to this film style. Few movies I can think of, especially from Hollywood, are able to present abuse in a way do that does not romanticize, stylize, excessively dramatize, or otherwise sugarcoat the true horror of victimization. I think most films make it too pretty, too transparent, too simplistic, and nowhere near being real. When something has happened to you, you will not see the experience as a dramatic device or a fictional piece of entertainment. I will never forget seeing the video for Aerosmith's "Janie's got a gun", a song that seems to see itself as giving voice to a teenage girl raped by her father. The video actually makes the rape look sexy. Imagine my disgust at seeing this my first day at a foster home.

My boyfriend was initially wary of showing me The Celebration because there are so many commonalities between the film and my life. Christian and his twin sister suffered sexual abuse, and his sister committed suicide. Unlike me, Christian also had another sister and brother who are both at the reunion. The film portrays the family's reaction to Christian's revelations, as well as Christian's need to tell the truth about what happened in his immediate family, both for himself and for his dead sister.

This movie would have upset me if the characters and their reactions and behavior felt inauthentic. However, I was amazed at how much the film rang true to me. It felt so real that I learned about my own abusive family from dynamics of Christian's family. When the younger sister found her sister's suicide note, instead of dramatic music rising to signify her discover, followed by an immediate dramatic revelation of the note, she quietly hid it in her luggage. When Christian accused their father of causing his sister's suicide, his other sister derided him instead of showing the family her suicide note. Their mother, instead of responding with shock or anger, calmly belittled her adult children as failures.

The mother's reaction really struck me. Her main motivation was to maintain the power dynamic in the family, in which the father was an unquestioned dictatorial ruler, and the children, even as adults, were powerless and denied any voice in the family. The extended family, while initially shocked, fought to avoid the awful truth, clinging to the status quo.

A review of The Celebration I read called the adult children "vengeful". I cannot challenge this attitude strongly enough. It is not vengeful to hold abusers responsible for their actions. There is no satisfying revenge on someone who destroyed your childhood. Telling the truth is not revenge; it is the responsible thing to do for yourself and for everyone around you. Abuse is not just some event in your life best forgotten about; it changes you. It affects your self-concept, confidence, and ability to be effective in your life and have satisfying relationships. I now believe, after years of trying to avoid it, that there are usually only 3 options for people traumatized by abuse- 1. Lead a life diminished by shame, confusion, and feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and misplaced guilt, 2. Commit suicide or otherwise escape into drugs, alcohol, or other addictions, 3. Talk about it, and find the support that you need (which will find you if you put yourself out there).

This film was very poignant for me. It portrays someone who needs to stand up and talk about what happened. He is afraid of and intimidated by his abuser but has the courage to stand up to him and ignore the forces of denial in his family. He does find support, and is able to be at peace with his sister's suicide, and go on with his life. The movie feels like a home movie, like a window into the power struggles of an abusive family, and the struggle of an adult to defend the child he was and the sister who did not survive so he can be his own person, free from his abuser's control.

I mentioned The Constant Gardner in an earlier post. I did not say what I thought of the movie, though, and a couple of people have asked. The movie is about Justin Quayle, a British diplomat in Kenya. After his wife Tessa, an activist, is brutally murdered, he goes on a dangerous quest to find the truth about her work and the people who had her killed. The bravery of Justin and Tessa encouraged me to stand up to my dad. Both stood up for what mattered to them, regardless of ridicule, threats, or people who wanted to believe they were crazy. In trying to uncover the truth about Tessa's death, Justin learns about who she was and the revelations transform him. It is a love story that takes the popular horror film premise of the person who is not who they seem to be, and turns it upside down.

In horror films, often a character that seems good and decent turns out to be evil and scary. Horror films depend on that element of human nature that makes us resist facing the truth. We think it is easier to believe a lie, maintain the status quo, and wallow in fantasy, than open ourselves up to reality, whatever it may be.

The truth is uncomfortable. We cannot control the truth with our manipulations. We must accept the truth for what it is. In The Constant Gardener, the truth puts Tessa and Justin in danger, but it also frees them from the manipulations of powerful people and organizations. My boyfriend likes to use the phrase "speaking truth to power" and JC said "the truth shall set you free". Living a life that respects truth and integrity is risky, but supporting lies and deceptions eats away at you, and makes your life not worth living.

As Justin learns the truth about Tessa, what he did not know about her does not horrify him. His love for her intensifies, and he becomes more devoted to her and her work. I suppose it is 2 sides of a coin. When you learn the truth about someone, you may be horrified, or you may be inspired and filled with respect and compassion for their courage and strength.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Thanks for the props. :) I really like your review of The Celebration - you culled many great insights from that film.