25 February 2010

51 Birch Street

I have no idea how this one ended up on my Netflix queue, but it was a fascinating movie. This filmmaker is shooting footage of his parents, just 'cuz, you know, cuz that's what filmmakers do, and kind of reflecting on how his parents seem like such an average happy couple. There are some cracks in the facade - he's close to his mother but not his father, he doesn't really feel like he knows his father, etc, but overall, things seem pretty jolly. Then his mother dies suddenly, and lo and behold, his father marries his former secretary 3 months later. And he starts wondering, and then starts investigating, mostly by reading his mother's diaries. Come to find out, their marriage was never particularly happy.

So the movie is basically him learning about this, and coping with it. It's kind of devastating in a way, but also fascinating. From what we can tell, his parents never actually cheated on each other, and were committed to staying married, even though it wasn't very happy. At moments they seemed kind of resigned to making the best of it, which was at least an improvement from the moments of seething misery, but still.

Thinking back on it, one does wonder whether his mother doesn't ultimately bear a bit too much of the blame for it all. Though he insists that he loves her, the filmmaker ultimately makes her seem like a rather narcissistic, melodramatic woman who is never especially warm or loving to her husband or children. His father, who had formerly been a rather aloof and taciturn type of guy, turns into a cuddly teddy bear after his second marriage. And so you can't help but think, my god, all those years he suffered. Though of course the same could be said of his mother. And in the end you wonder, was it really worth it, to stay together all that time? Which also makes you wonder, more broadly, what marriage is really about, and how happy two people really can be together. I mean, we know that all marriages have their ups and downs and difficult points, but how much misery is too much, you know? When do you just give up?

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