I bring your attention to this artistic gem, worth seeing, if you haven’t already, one I recently added to my repertoire of entertainment treasures. I don’t know how I’d managed to miss it – it must have been one the critics liked too much – or – forgot to make a fuss over. You don’t have to be a connoisseur of fine film to appreciate it, although it helps. Prerequisites to ensure the endeavor worthwhile - enjoyment of ‘slice of life’ themes - this is certainly no Star Wars – witty, involved script, amusing repartee, admirable acting and absorbing characterization. For those of you interested in psychology and relationships, I gained some insights, myself, thanks to it, which might be worthwhile sharing...
On a Saturday evening several weeks ago, I invited a friend, ‘Sandra’, for dinner and a video. She wanted to watch a ‘woman’s movie’. Personally, they’re not my cuppa. I prefer something believable and intelligent - not another Pretty Woman – please. Our goals seemingly at cross-purposes, the onus was on me, as host, to rise to the occasion. Naturally, I compromised. I let her make the choice. It was most fortunate and serendipitous that she stumbled upon Passion Fish. Interesting name, isn’t it? It has significance for the story, of course - I won’t tell. Neither the film nor its’ stars (------) rang a bell with either of us, but we agreed to give it a shot. I’ll be honest; I didn’t have high expectations, though I noted Oscar Nominations for Best Actress and Screenplay (1992). How bad could it be?
The gist of the story - An unhappy – justifiably so - strong-willed, recently disabled woman struggles to find a new life and reinvent herself. (I can relate to that, except the circumstances, of course, are a little different – I am not disabled and I have nothing much to be unhappy about. Not so, Sandra. She’s going through a messy, nasty divorce.) Mary–Alice, the main character, is a daytime soap opera star who suddenly becomes a paraplegic as a result of a car accident. Bitchy and bitter, she retreats to her family home in the Deep South, effectively giving up on life. She locks horns with another strong-willed woman, the black nurse she finally hires to help take care of her. Chantelle has a challenge on her hands, I tell you. A bravura performance by both. Of course, there are the requisite love interests--though hardly ideal romantic material---see for yourself.
You already know how it turned out - I loved the movie. Sandra liked it a lot. I lucked out. My generosity of spirit came back to me twofold. The film has many aspects to recommend it, not the least, the location - Louisiana’s beguiling bayou country. You can smell it, feel it, feast your eyes on it. The musical flavor is authentic as well. Cajun. The writer, director, remarkably, is a man, John Sayles, and a contemporary, someone from my own Boomer age bracket. For one of those so-called ‘Men from Mars,’ this fellow seems to have some pretty good insights into ‘Venus.’ His approach is artistically adroit; in spite of the heavy context, the film is definitely not a downer. It touches intellectually and emotionally, with healthy doses of humor.
Another element worthy of mention is the ingenious, completely natural way that race and class just seem to dissolve. Here are four people from completely different backgrounds learning to connect and relate to each other, as they must, if they are going to have any kind of a life. They still have to accept and work with their individual limitations.
How’s this for limitations? One of the romantic male leads is a swamp guide and married man with five kids, while the main protagonist Mary Alice is in no shape for much of a sex life! But they still need each other. Completely natural and believable, as it would be, if it happened in real life. So, sans the disability, and this particular plot line, why doesn’t it, more often? Not just in the South, where, historically, these matters have been exacerbated, but everywhere in the Great Melting Pot, and here at home?
After it was over, Sandra and I had the following exchange:
“Sandy, you out-did yourself. For sure, I would have missed this one, if not for you -” “Good thing you strong-armed me.”
“You must remember to keep an open mind, Helga.”
“Oh, I know. Imagine me unwittingly short-changing myself -”
“Yes, you. The one who doesn’t want to miss anything.”
“Correction. Anything worthwhile. God, I love stories about strong women – Strong men for that matter -You know, tough on the outside, tender on the inside -.”
“In all honesty, I found Mary-Alice a little too tough for my taste.”
I was surprised. I see Sandra as the one in Mary-Alice’s frame of mind – melancholy, hurting - the one in her psychological, thank goodness, not physical, predicament. Do we have more insight into others than they do into themselves? If I can relate to her, Sandra ought to be able to....I asked her if depressed or passive-aggressive is preferable to feisty. Would she rather a more sympathetic than inspiring character? She told me that’s my word for it. Susan, were you paying attention? The good news - There is life after What-Have-You. She supposed so - for some. Okay. I have to accept it. One of us was inspired.
So, what did she particularly like about the movie? I was curious. The dynamics of the relationship between the two women, apparently. The way Chantelle stands up to her irascible employer and helps her straighten out. Yes - I can relate to that, absolutely -
The thought suddenly occurred to me - Interesting that Sandra enjoys relationships like that with women – Why not, with men? Where her former boyfriends and her ex were concerned, she was - still is - a pushover. As long as they pay attention and talk nice. They did pretty much as they pleased, which had nothing to do with what was good for her or the relationship. Actions speak louder than words, I always tell myself.
This was not the time to bring that up, however, at such a vulnerable stage. Instead, I poured what was left of the wine and offered a toast:
“Here’s to our new, reinvented selves."
There was not much impetus as she raised hers and took a sip.
“To a page out of Passion Fish
A faint trace of a smile. No comment.
Suddenly, feeling sympathy - I know she’s not used to being alone - Definitely doesn’t like - I invited her to stay the night. "There's the guestroom ready and waiting." Thanking me, but declining, she then asked me what she’s supposed to do with the rest of her life? What should she do? How do I do it? How do I live alone?”
I see that she may have enjoyed the movie but it didn't reach her. Imagine if she were in Mary-Alice’s situation. That lady had big problems; loneliness was just one of them. I don’t think I’d do as well in her predicament. I realized that Sandra wasn’t looking for practical help or advice, she wanted a sounding board. I wish I was a shrink, but probably I wouldn’t be good at it - I have no patience for people who don’t do their part to help themselves.
Living alone is not a bad thing, necessarily, I told her. I know for a fact it’s better than living with someone who makes you feel you might as well be. Better than living a lie. Did I reach her? She’s smart and attractive – intense, dark, pretty. She asked me again how do I do it, on a daily basis - You know, come home and there’s nobody there?
What could I say? All the cliche things - which just happen to be true? ‘Love yourself first, if you want a loving relationship...yada yada yada.’ And what do you say to someone who obviously doesn’t internalize the experiences of others? Start by getting yourself a kitten - or a hampster – some living creature that needs you and likes you, no matter what - looks forward to you coming home every day - even a bad hair day. Maybe, more than the ex ever did! Honest, it’ll do wonders. Get yourself busy. Get involved in things that interest you. Be your own best friend. Treat yourself right...
"And, what if you’re allergic?" she countered. There was a suggestion of a smile, a wistful one.
I kept trying to pump her up. I told her the situation isn't fatal, though it may seem that way – that I understood how she feels. I’ve been there. Her feelings are natural – Recognize, accept them, and move on - Don’t get stuck there. Assume it’s a phase she must go through, the consequence of previous poor judgment, or bad luck. Accept her share of responsibility. Realize it won’t last forever - The one thing that’s a sure thing, is that things change. Hopefully, she learned from what happened – She’ll be smarter next time and make better choices. Life will be better. It will move forward. She won’t marry the same kind of man twice - the cad - You know how many women do that?
I saw nothing I said was working. Rarely at a loss for words, I seemed to be running out of things to say. I was just about out of patience and tolerance. It’s not like we hadn’t had this conversation before.... Then, on cue, my conscience kicked in. I remembered when I really had no one to talk to about my relationship problems – my divorce. My nearest and dearest, my own flesh and blood, had no more forbearance than I now exhibited. I helped myself, mostly, thanks to my beloved books – The accumulated wisdom of the sages through the Ages. Self Help - Don’t trash it – It works if you want it to. For example - Wayne D. Dyer’s, The Sky’s the Limit
, is a handy ‘bible’ for how to approach life and conduct oneself. Brian Tracy’s Maximum Achievement
. Their messages are positive and practical. That’s tremendously important.
So, finally, I just let Sandra talk. I tried to be a good listener. I didn’t say anything more. She left feeling a whole lot better. I felt completely drained, but better too, to be honest, knowing I had ultimately helped her in the way she was ready to be helped.
I put the video back on and played the sequences with those unique, appealing, Cajun rhythms. Ahh, that’s nice.... I slowly revived, blood coursing through my body to my brain, grateful for the twin pleasures and the lessons learned.
~ Helga Marion Ross ~