It’s been cold here in the Midwest and lately I’ve been feeling the drive to hibernate. I can always tell I’m switching to hibernate mode when I feel the sudden urge to catch up, in one sitting, with all the movies I’ve missed throughout the cycling season. In the last week, I’ve watched District 9 (loved it), The Other Boleyn Girl (eh, not so much), Religulous (funny but a bit too Michael Moore-ish in presentation, Bill Maher was a bit snarky at times), and Hancock (cute!). On Monday, I even ventured out with some friends to see It’s Complicated (very cute!). In an actual theater. I think the last time I went (alone) to see a movie in a theater was Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince this past summer.
My friend Kat contributed to my state of hibernation by beginning me on a crash course of “Alan Rickman Education” as she calls it, loaning me a few movies from her personal collection. I’ve always had a crush on Alan Rickman which really evolved into full-blown lust with his role as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter movies. I’ve always had a thing for Goth men. (Sidebar: I wanted to be Goth when I was in high school, but I feared the disapproval of my mother and I was having enough trouble trying to fit in with my peers being dressed straight-laced as I was.) So a dark-haired Rickman wearing eye-liner and black clothes is obviously very appealing. And that voice…. Oh, that voice! What’s not to love about a deep, distinctive voice with a slight British lilt?
My Rickman Education began with Truly Madly Deeply–a movie that everyone but me has previously seen and adored. I mean, hell, it’s only 20 years old. I’ve obviously never been very good at keeping up with movies. And that was before my life as a cyclist/skier/wine aficionado.
Anyway, Truly Madly Deeply is about Nina, a woman who has, in some time period before the movie starts, lost her lover, Jaime (played by Rickman), from a sudden illness that started with a sore throat. The first third of the film focuses on her daily life as she struggles with the loss, introducing you to her world and the people in her life who care about her. I found these sequences very realistic from her bouts of angry tears while talking to her therapist to the wounded offense she takes to her sister’s request for Jaime’s cello so that her son can take lessons. I give the script-writer full kudos for the very real words that pulled on my heart-strings, reminding me of my own moments of trying to cope in those first years after Mike died.
The story takes a leap into the paranormal when Jaime returns from the dead to be with Nina in an apparently solid, human form, though it’s clear from his explanation that he’s a ghost. Oh if only such things were possible! It is so easy to be swept up in those first passionate scenes between Nina and Jaime because it is a widow/widower’s dream come true. I know I’d trade all of my earthly possessions to have just one entire day with Mike again. I think a lot of people who lost their lover just a bit too soon would feel similarly. In fact, it is not uncommon for a widow/widower to dream of their spouse returning suddenly into their lives. The human mind, apparently, has a huge disconnect when it comes to the idea of someone simply no longer existing. It’s probably why we cling so tightly to religion. We’d rather think of ourselves and our loved ones as continuing somewhere… It’s part of the reason I practice faith, despite the rather selfish nature of my yearning.
At first, the reunion is a welcome blessing. Even though you, as the viewer, know pretty much from his first appearance on-screen that there’s no way the laws of nature can be broken to allow this union to be permanent. No one I know has been “allowed” to return from the dead and stay among the living, not even in fiction. Some of the warning signs to the unhappy demise are subtle. Jaime is plagued with a perpetual feeling of coldness that he cannot overcome despite every attempt he makes to find warmth. Could it be his body–the mortal coil to which he clings–can no longer generate heat? We learn too that rats “fear” ghosts. Rats, who boldly walk across Nina’s sleeping body at the beginning of the film, cower and hide in the presence of unnatural immortality. Hmm. I get it.
Jaime starts bringing his “ghost friends” to Nina’s place. The ghosts are apparently obsessed with watching old movies. They become annoying like the rude poker buddies of your husband or boyfriend. They are over every night and they never sleep. And it’s like they don’t ever want to be alone. Almost like a normal couple, Nina and Jaime begin to argue about the unwelcome house guests. You see the relationship crumbling as Nina seeks more and more engagement with the outside world. I’m not really sure what the writers had in mind with this ridiculous situation. I mean, it was kind of comical and cute–all these annoying, pesky ghosts dressed like bums and street beggars–but I am not sure it painted an honest image in my mind of what the real problems of living with the ghost of your former lover might be… Well, as real as any such situation could be…
Regardless, this movie would have worked for me but for one bad plot decision: Nina starts to fall in love with another (living) man. Which I really, really detest. How long was she widowed from Jaime at this point in the movie? It seems implied that it wasn’t that long. Having her find a new love interest so quickly just feeds into the popular idea that the way to mend a broken heart is to replace the loneliness with new love. As someone who dated at least two men too soon after her husband’s death, I have to say that this is giving the general public, as well as other people who have lost their loved ones, the completely wrong idea. In fact, it is this idea that pushed me to start dating again too soon after Mike died. Shamefully, too soon was just seven months and I did feel pressure from my friends to initiate the relationship because I knew they thought it would fix me.
Dating before a person is ready does a horrible disservice to the “rebound” guy. Believe me, at least one of those too soon relationships I had ended because I simply was not emotionally ready to be with someone who wasn’t Mike. I think most people need at least a year to sort out their feelings after a loss like this. At least. These kind of fairytale movies promote an idea that encourages inappropriate responses from people to a grieving person, such as the insensitive ass who said to me, as I stood beside Mike’s casket at the wake, “Don’t worry. You’re young. You’ll find love again.”
I think this movie should have ended with Nina coming to her own conclusion–sans emotional involvement with another man–that she and Jaime couldn’t continue their “unconventional relationship.” There actually was a great scene in which she does start to figure this out and even Jaime quotes this beautiful poem about “letting go,” but for some reason she backs off and begs him never to leave. And then in the next scene, she’s off flirting with the new guy. Talk about mixed messages. The movie really should have ended with a tearful goodbye and Jaime leaving/disappearing/agreeing to go, leaving us viewers with a mature message about letting go of a past you can’t get back even in magical circumstances. Instead, with the new love prospect in the next scene, the implied message of the movie is, “It’s a lot easier to move on if you have another lover waiting in the wings.” It really cheapened the idealism of the movie.
I guess this is the same problem I have with Sleepless in Seattle. I think it’s a huge burden to lay the pains of an old loss at the feet of a new lover. A grieving person needs to work through their pain and feelings of loss in order to become whole within themselves enough to be able to love someone else for who they are completely. This also applies to people who are divorced. Marriage–or even a long-term relationship in which two people have shared a life together–is a literal bond between two people. A couple spends a portion of their lives working in communion together. If done correctly, there’s less “me” and more “us.” When that bond is removed suddenly–whether through death or divorce–it is almost like losing a limb. You have to figure out how to do things for yourself again. Everything. From shared life goals to simple allocation of chores, the fabric of a couple’s life is interwoven in ways you don’t even realize until one of the threads is missing. The unraveling and re-weaving is a lot of work. I had a long road of rediscovery in the years since Mike died. I’ve had to reshape my goals for myself. I’ve had to find new interests, new hobbies, and new ways to network.
I guess I’m a little reactionary and sensitive about the messages the media gives our society about death issues because I think the media is exactly where people get the ideas of how they think they should act when faced with death. It leads people to say stupid things they think are valiant, give advice they think is helpful, and expect behaviors from a grieving person that just aren’t realistic. It puts a lot of pressure on a person who is grieving and, as was in my case, often makes them feel afraid to express themselves. I can’t tell you how many times people told me I was strong when I felt like I was exploding inside. But I never had the courage to tell anyone how I felt, fearful it would make them uncomfortable or cause them to give me unwanted (bad) advice. And it often did. Which lead me to retreat further into myself.
I’m trying to remember if there’s a movie I think that handles death well in my opinion… Hmmm…. I guess I don’t know of any at the moment. But I can say, I’d like to see something truthful and hopeful without the whole “new romance” angle. There has to be a movie where you see a person’s perspective change for the better in some other enlightening fashion. We need more widows and widowers to write their stories down and tell them like they are. We all know the truth about our situations… and only we can tell it the way it really happens… Someday one of us is going to get a different story told…
As an ironic side note, about half way through the movie, I realized that Truly Madly Deeply was the movie my mother-in-law was trying to tell me about in the weeks after Mike’s death. It’s kind of strange because I’ve thought about her describing of this movie for years. I’ve wondered about this movie and even questioned the memory of her telling me about it. You never can tell–those memories of that first year after Mike’s death are so hazy, vague, and garbled. I even started to write my own version of the story, first in my head and, most recently, this past October down on paper. I think I’m still going to finish my own version of a fiction story where a husband comes back to be with his wife. It will, of course, be completely different. But I have to say that I feel I’ve come full circle, these many years later, having finally seen the movie my mother-in-law told me about. We don’t talk to each other for a laundry list of reasons these days, but it still feels like a gift she gave to me by opening my eyes to be on the look out for it. Despite my displeasure with how the movie ended, it was good to pick up another loose end in my wandering widow’s walk.