Thursday, December 3, 2009

Precious: A Difficult Feeling

Last night's episode of Glee was one of the best of the season. The music of the episode wasn't the best, no, but the story was brilliant. I love Glee, but sometimes things are too much of a mash-up when I just want it all to move like a real story.

Maybe it's just me, but I really wasn't that in love with Coraline. I liked it, I wanted to really like it, but I just couldn't. It was a great film visually, but the story felt too thin at times that I just couldn't love it the way some of my critics seem to.

But onto more convoluted and lengthily-written sentiments...

I saw Precious this past Thanksgiving weekend (last Saturday, to be exact). I was almost ashamed that I didn't actually cry during it. I teared up, for sure, the same moment Mariah Carey's character was kind of blubbering on screen, and the whole film just left me in this state of mind that I just wasn't allowed to talk about it. Which is so interesting from the perspective we're taking from reading Maus in my literature class this past week. The idea that the Holocaust cannot be retold, but rather that Maus acts as a substitution, never daring to presume that it is a retelling or a recreation - it simply is what it is.

But something tugs at me and tells me that Precious is supposed to be real and that is what makes me clam up about it. Not that it's based directly off of a true story - although Oprah and Tyler Perry find themselves taking it and applying it to real tales around them, and I can't blame them for doing that in the least - but that it isn't trying to substitute for anything, it's trying to take the place of that reality, trying to show us it. I'm not sure how I feel about that, about seeing this depressing-as-hell story told to me. I can't really talk about the film, about the elements of it. I feel as if I'd be betraying what the movie is showing. I don't dare to put the film into a frame like we're asked to when we're asked how we feel about a movie or how it is. And some movies, most movies that I see actually, I can do that. I can talk and talk about the narrative structure, about what I liked and didn't like, about the portrayals and this and that and on and so forth. But some movies, like Precious, just leave me with the sense that I'm not allowed to say anything about it. I can't even know how I feel about it. I can pick out little things, talk about the skillful acting, about the interesting structure and bleakness of it all, but I can't even dare to seriously summarize or react to it.

This is something I don't want to have. I'd rather have the courage to be able to do what Art Spiegelman does and take the frikkin Holocaust and find some way to express myself without betraying the original event, without betraying Precious and her story, but still managing to express what that experience brings. I haven't read the novel the movie is based off of, and maybe the movie does that for the novel. Successfully substitutes the sufferings of the novel with the sufferings in the movie. There is something that so nicely converts a story sometimes when it is translated from a textual to a visual medium. But I'm rambling, and I don't even make sense to myself by this point.

My point is that this class, Narratives of Suffering, has changed the way I look at everything around me, no joke. I also saw A Serious Man and thanks to Narratives of Suffering, despite really enjoying the movie and thinking it was good, I have some serious beef with it that I am still trying to articulate in my mind to make into an eventual post. But A Serious Man is still something of a comedic movie, something quirky, by the Coens' brothers. Not like Precious, not like this brutally honest thing that I just don't want to confront but is haunting me everyday that I don't try to face it down and accept what it was trying to tell me. It's simple really: the horrors people can put on those they supposedly love, the hurt that "love" provides, and real love that can be found, a way to escape and a hope for something more. But there's still such a trauma there.

It's funny how everything pieces together so smoothly in life. Not only did I see these two movies all about suffering in the midst of trying to understand it through the lens of this class and the fifteen books we've read for it (The Road is last and coincidentally enough, the movie version just came out!), but one of my friends just did a presentation on trauma this evening, the last portion of which I attended. It was a pretty straightforward synopsis of trauma, providing the important information about it, and presenting it mostly within the idea of sexual abuse and on college campuses. But after having just finished rereading Maus, trauma seems so much bigger than that, so much more complicated. But basically my life is surrounding me with these narratives of suffering and asking me, begging me, in fact, to confront and understand them. The song I'm doing for my jazz final is even called "I Want To Be Happy!" I mean, what the hell, life?

It always circles back around to that class lately. And not without good reason. I'm glad that a class I'm taking has had such an effect on my life. Not like my film classes which, although awesome, have provided more of a technical and aesthetic appreciation and skill, but something that has truly made me think more profoundly and to look around me at the world with more thought. A year ago, I would have simply accepted Precious and A Serious Man as amazing films, and when Precious would have scared me from trying to talk about it, I wouldn't have bothered to try to think about why and have simply accepted that it's a difficult story.

And it is a difficult story, and a very difficult movie. But I want to try to talk about it without feeling the eyes on me, asking why I, such a privileged person whose worst worries are about getting her homework all done in time and adequately, should ever dare to think about such pain. Who am I to think about such pain? But it's not about looking at it apart, seeing it as myself. I want to look at this movie and not get lost in the pain and suffering but see it analytically as well, understandingly, but without losing my humanity in the process. Yes, I feel for Precious, I watch her in the movie and my heart tries to leap out of my chest to be closer to her, to join souls with her, but I don't want that to cloud my ability to see the movie as a narrative. It's easy to let that happen as I've felt with several of the narratives we've read in my class. And it's easy to step back and forget how to feel. I want to do both and it's a struggle, but a worthwhile one, because in feeling but understanding, like Art Spiegelman seems to succeed at in Maus, I can lay myself next to the story, and love it.

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