I can feel myself becoming more like Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent) each day. I hope I am only becoming him in the best ways, but no one is perfect. There are weeks when you are simply done by Thursday, and the sight of people demanding your attention over frivolous matters makes you so exasperated you want to get in your car, come home, and go to bed as early as 8 a.m. And dealing with “walking cliché people” who talk like they’ve swallowed 300 of the most generic greeting cards is increasingly unbearable. Incidentally these are the same people who don’t seem to be aware that they’re on earth with other human beings who can see their litter, hear their loud children, inhale their cigarette smoke, and see them taking up the entire sidewalk with their obnoxious friends.
However, I’d like to think that my hypothetical daughter–Michelle Dockery plays Susie Webster, Tony and his ex-wife Harriet’s (Harriet Walter) actual daughter in the film–would not hesitate to call on me in the most serious, intimate matters in the midst of which a child would need a parent. But again, life is not always so simple, and The Sense of an Ending (directed by Ritesh Batra, written by Nick Payne, and based on the novel by Julian Barnes) reminds us that our idea of ourselves is not always in sync with how others perceive us. We can change before we are aware of it–or we can simply be without knowing how we are. The past and how we make sense of it–and how we can live in our own heads–make up the multiple realities in which we live.
I often think that it is “a lot of work” to maintain relationships and my own interests, not to mention focus on the future I want to have. But we try, make mistakes, and try again. And occasionally we have breakthroughs that put us in a better place. The Sense of an Ending is my kind of film. It is about people and memory–and yes, the relationships that make up our lives and make memories what they are.
John Keats may have died at 25, but he was able to articulate the feelings of mortality better than anyone. What urged him on in his poetic career was the foreboding he felt about life ending too soon. In order to achieve what he believed to be the true poetic task, he allowed himself to feel intensely, including the opposite emotion present in every feeling—for example, the “melancholy in delight” and the “pleasure in pain.” (See also the subtitle of this post). I turned to my Norton Anthology’s biography of John Keats because the same sentiments came to me a few days after I saw I’ll See You in My Dreams.
I enjoyed the film because of the main character, Carol Petersen (the wonderful Blythe Danner), with her unapologetic attitude and cozy if not monotonous (but classy) routine. She is a widow in her 70s who has friends (Yes!–June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place) who themselves want to continue to live active lives. They encourage her to do the same, which means entering into the dating scene (Sam Elliott). Carol is reluctant because that has not fit into her lifestyle for quite some time. I also enjoyed the film for its (what I call) realistic treatment of a person’s life. The film, directed by Brett Haley and written by Haley and Marc Basch, has the tagline “Life Goes On. Go With It.” To me the film is about the difficulty of taking that advice. The difficulty comes as the result of many circumstances. Age and one’s capacity (willingly or unwillingly) to experience the sadness in joy or the fear in exhilaration are two of those.
How we allow ourselves to have (or not have) experiences, which is usually a reaction to what we have been through in our lives, has a major impact on the choices we make. For people who do desire romantic love or companionship, the prospect of being alone for the rest of their lives (although the word “alone” does sound strong, people use it) seems to be felt more keenly with age because we tend to look back at the amount of time we’ve been in a certain situation. Still, others are new to the experience because they’ve either just decided that they would like a long-term relationship or one has just ended after a long time. I’ll See You in My Dreams gives us insights into these questions, and it certainly lets us know that life does not end because we reach a certain age. Also, through a key relationship (Martin Starr), there is something else I love in film—the mixture of youth and experience. Despite all of the discouragement I carry when I think about my future, when I think of this film I think of possibilities—no guarantees, but of what could happen.
“I loved my feet on the boards” -Blythe Danner talks about her love of theatre acting, among other things, in this interview (also below) from DP/30.
“That’s what a good script will get for you—a good cast.” -Mary Kay Place. This is a must-see! I’ll See You in My Dreams DP/30 interview with Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place, and June Squibb!
During “New Amsterdam,” the fourth episode of the first season of Mad Men, Roger Sterling says, “Maybe every generation thinks the next one is the end of it all. I bet people in the Bible were walking around complaining about ‘kids today.'” That sentiment is not new, and I think about it all the time. While We’re Young made me think about it yet again and consider writer/director Noah Baumbach’s (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg, Frances Ha–I still need to see Frances Ha) take.
I also had to see this for Namoi Watts. The most pleasing aspect of this film for me is that it did not give me exactly what I wanted. I like that because the world does not revolve around me. While I have strong opinions about the direction in which the world is going and the generational issues which create a large number of young people who are void of the communication skills required to succeed, there are varieties of methods to deal with this impending doom. I should listen to other approaches.
But there are so many elements and commentaries that had me yelling (in my mind–or maybe I said it under my breath a few times), “Right on!” in the Meryl Streep-at-the-Oscars sort of way. The final scene communicates that, despite changes that we should embrace, there are those that we should not accept—not if we want any sort of positive human future for those who must “take over and run the world” (I have that scene in A Raisin in the Sun on my brain). Again, communication—the human variety—comes into play because it is, to me, the foundation. The film showed me that it is possible to compromise, but it is also necessary that I not let the impending doom I feel stop me from continuing to work toward my own growth and success. The desire to do so could easily fall away while I ruminate on how everything is going “downhill.” And I still want to write a book called I Am Not A Millennial: Stories from a “Young” Teacher. Just–please–don’t call me a millennial.
The last time I had an out-of-body experience at the movies was during Lincoln (2012). Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln) was bringing it in the most intense private scene with Daniel Day-Lewis (Abraham Lincoln). With Field’s sheer brilliance and the passion that poured from her, I was reminded that I wouldn’t witness much like that in the cinema. This time, I had the magical out-of-body experience during a scene in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in which Judi Dench (Evelyn Greenslade) and Maggie Smith (Muriel Donnelly) are the only two players. It’s just the two of them. Sitting there, it was as if I took it all in–these icons together at their best (which they display in everything they do). I felt fortunate, and not since Lincoln had I actually had that out-of-body feeling. The movie is worth it for those few moments, but it is more than that. It combines the wisdom of the old with the “wisdom” of the young. The “wisdom” of the young, however, begs for the guidance of the experienced, and the relationship between Sonny (Dev Patel) and Muriel (Smith) is something we need more of. The mixture of youth and experience is something else we need more of (as well as, of course, a focus on older characters in and of itself). I certainly learned and gained insight. And sometimes I like to teach a bit. And hearing the names of the rest of the cast, including Bill Nighy (Douglas Ainslie), Penelope Wilton (Jean Ainslie), Celia Imrie (Madge Hardcastle), Ronald Pickup (Norman Cousins), Lillete Dubey (Mrs. Kapoor), Diana Hardcastle (Carol Parr), and Richard Gere (Guy Chambers) makes me yell, “Yes!”