Tuesday, December 25, 2007
"Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters..."
I hope everybody who was interested in having a good Christmas did, with or without Jesus. Here at our blended Pagan-Christian household we exchanged gifts (some habits die hard), and then took a hike in the woods with one of the dogs. I can’t think of a better way to spend a holiday.
Last night, the designated worshipper in our house went off to church, and I went to the movies. I’ve been anxious to see Noah Baumbach’s new film Margot at the Wedding, in spite of the mostly crummy reviews, and I figured there’s no better time to wallow in fictional family neuroses than Christmas Eve. If you haven’t heard about the movie, click above for the website. Or just watch the trailer:
It’s hard to say whether I liked this movie. I’m not sure it wants to be liked. The characters are all clever, verbose, self-centered jerks, except for the kids, who are just clever and self-centered. The title character, played by Nicole Kidman, is one of those relentless passive-aggressive types who can only survive among people who share her pretensions and insecurities—an earthier set would mop up the floor with her in no time flat. In addition to stabbing her sister in the back at every opportunity, Margot is the ultimate Freudian nightmare mommy, alternately seductive and brutal toward her young son. The complaint from most of the critics has been that it’s impossible to stay interested in such a thoroughly dislikable character. Salon’s reviewer also goes out of her way to note that it’s hard to look at Kidman’s obviously botoxed face. That seems a bit catty, and it’s also a pointless attack on the movie, since the character Kidman is playing is exactly the type who would overdo a cosmetic touch-up. (Personally, I couldn’t care less what Kidman looks like when the irresistible Jennifer Jason Leigh is flouncing around the screen in an open pajama top. Not that I have a girl crush on her or anything.)
Dislikable characters notwithstanding, I did stay interested right up to the bummer of an ending—which speaks well of the movie, since my walk-out rate as a solitary moviegoer hovers somewhere around 50%. I have zero tolerance for tedium when I don’t have Dave or some other companion to consider. I suspect what kept me in my seat—apart from JJL—was the sibling drama between Margot and Pauline. I have always been fascinated by sister relationships. I’m the youngest of three kids, the only girl, and when I was young I desperately wanted a sister. My mother had a girl baby after me that died at birth, which only added to my sense of being deprived. I’d watch my mother interact with her sister, or my grandmother with my great aunts, and it always seemed that there was a special kind of love between them—hate, too, of course—which you couldn’t experience with anyone but a sister.
Being an only daughter shaped me in a lot of ways. Among other things, I think it helped give me a feisty attitude toward males, especially in their bullying mode. I had to hold my own with the boys since there was nobody else on my team to back me up. It also left me ill-equipped for certain kinds of female communication. To this day, I am baffled by the dishy intimacy of beauty salon discourse.
I remember a friend once saying to me that she would never get married because she didn’t want to be defined by a relationship with another person. I always thought that was one of the dumber things I ever heard a smart person say. Whether you marry or not, you’re always defined by your relationships with other people. There’s no escaping that you’re someone’s child, sibling, lover, friend, parent, student, employee, etc., etc. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve come to realize how much our lives are also defined by the relationships we don’t have. In my case, I’ll never know what it is to have a sister or to be a mother, but everybody has particular connections that they forgo, or that life’s lottery doesn’t deliver. Maybe you mourn the lack, maybe you don’t, but if you look at the broad picture of your life, you’re bound to find empty spots that’ll make you wonder what it would have meant if they’d been filled.
Which brings us back to Margot at the Wedding, which, for me, was a glimpse of a mystery that has intrigued me all my life. It’s a terrific exploration of the dark bond that can only exist between sisters, a bond I’ll never know. I walked out of the theater feeling as if I’d spent 2 hours at a psychological peep show. A lurid, funny, seriously twisted peep show. Then I went home and asked Dave about how things went at church. Who says you can’t have it all?
Photo of Alice Liddell and her sisters by Lewis Carroll, from Wikimedia Commons.