What is this movie about?
This is the question that Chris has been asking me for the past several weeks.
I mean, really. What is it about? Sickness? Grief? Memory? I need to know. We have lots of great moments and details, but I’m not getting my head around…I’m not getting a good grasp of what this movie is actually about.
Sometimes, I’ve taken this question poorly. As a criticism. I’ve let it keep me from the blog for a while, too. I’ve been sad. I’ve ranted and railed. My God I’ve thought and I’ve said. If you don’t know what it’s about…if you really can’t figure it out…you know. You might be an idiot? It’s all there. Black and white. Clear as crystal. It’s between the lines, sure. But if you can’t figure it out — well. Maybe your dad needs to get sick for over ten years and then die and then maybe you’ll get it. Then maybe it will resonate with you and you’ll be able to drum up some empathy.
You don’t know what it’s about, do you?
What?! Of course…of course I do. I know exactly…it’s hard to say…but I know exactly. I’ve always known ever since. I’ve known for fourteen years! I can’t put it into words per se.
Now is the time to put it into words.
I’ve cried. I’ve gotten angry. I’ve told Chris that I’ll take my words and my ideas and go home. (And then Chris reminded me that I am home.) I won’t bore you with our whole argument…really. But this is the circle that we’ve been going around and around for most of October.
So what is this movie about? Memory? Sickness? Grief? Yes, yes, yes. Sure. Of course. All of those things.
But, mostly, I think it’s about need. It’s about aching need and it’s about not being able to ask for what you need. It’s about not being able to ask for help or to say — to admit — what you need, even to yourself.
It’s about not knowing what you need and wanting…hoping that you’ll get it anyway. Without knowing. Without asking. It’s about being afraid to seem needy.
I think I’ve said all this. I do think it’s here. When I said that Ellie maybe expects too much, for example. That she expects mind-reading and unearned empathy. Empathy without communication. I have meant that she can’t ask for what she needs. Partly because she doesn’t know. When I have said that Ellie is proud and paranoid…I have meant that she can’t ask for what she needs.
It’s all here. Between the lines. Now, though, is a time for clarity. So let’s get some clarification. If we made this movie about me and about my dad, specifically, our audience would necessarily be limited — even if that were a movie we could possibly make. And it’s not. We would need a Russell Reach to make that movie, and we ran out four years ago. That story…that story is a book. Or not. That story is, maybe, just the story my siblings and I tell each other when we get together.
But, if the movie is about need, about unexpressed need, then it’s a movie for everyone. We have all had moments — maybe days, or weeks, or seasons, or even lifetimes of unexpressed need. Many of us have been paralyzed by unexpressed need. Many of us have been paralyzed by needing too much or needing too little.
We’ve all wondered how much we’re allowed to need. How much we can reasonably expect from other people. I’ll admit that I have no idea where the boundaries are. I have no concept of what’s reasonable and no sense of moderation when it comes to people I love. It’s embarrassing. It’s frightening to let them know how much I would do for them. And how much I expect from them. Sometimes, right in the middle of a perfectly pleasant, perfectly shallow get-together, when I suddenly realize that every person around me is a mystery to every other person, I’m tempted to ask for something outrageous…or offer something outrageous. Sometimes I want to ask for something impossible. Just to see where the margins are. Just to see how far I’ve strayed from the center. Just to see if people blink and let their social faces slip for a moment.
This is Ellie. Unable to explain to her dad what she needs. Unable ask her boss for what she needs. Inviting her friend down to visit…for…something. She doesn’t know what. Unable to ask her friend for what she needs. Unable to tell her boyfriend what she needs.
Unable to tell herself what she needs.
In a way, this is a woman’s coming-of-age story. Coming-of-age when you’re already of age. This is a story about growing up when you thought you were already a grown up. A story about growing up again.
This is a story about the first moment you realize that the cavalry isn’t coming. The first moment you realize that you are, ultimately, on your own. The first moment you realize that you will lose your parents. The first moment you realize that love is work. The first moment you realize that no one person can give you everything you need and that you are destined to need and need and need until the day you die.
This is hard for women. Some women face this moment and get silly and childish and shallow and decide to want stuff rather than make peace with their need. Some women face this moment and get bitter and hard and angry and decide they will refuse to need anyone or anything.
And some women. Some women face this moment and they grow and they believe and they get better. I am writing for this third type of woman. I am writing so that I can become this third type of woman.