Wednesday, December 10, 2014

When you get it...

Every so often, I'll realize that something I haven't watched in a very long time but have always loved is running on Netflix.

Last week, we introduced the kids to Stand By Me this way. That was a coming of age film that first was released when I wasn't much different in age than my kids are now. I was prepared for my experience with it to be a little bit different as a parent than it was back when I was the one watching it for the first time.

Aside from the bit about how he was a writer, it wasn't.

That part though, oh, did it resonate with me.

As Netflix is so ingeniously programmed to do, it began to show me movies that I might be interested in because I had recently watched Stand By Me. One day, a new film appeared on that list. One that I loved from the moment I saw it the first time.

American Beauty.


Original film poster
It was released in October of 1999. I'm almost certain that my husband and I saw it in the theater just before everything in our lives changed later on that month. Though he'd soon be diagnosed with cancer, we didn't know it yet. I was just a law school student drowning in case law and he was a guy celebrating passing the CPA exam.

I saw that film as a young adult, as a film critic, as a person who felt closest to the younger characters in the movie. I related mostly to Jane, the misunderstood daughter. Though things in my life were necessarily different than hers, I felt a kinship with her, a connection. I lived most of my life feeling like no one really knew me. There are days that I still feel that way. Hell, there are times I'm not sure I understand myself.

I fell in love with the film immediately because it was so brutal, so honest. So real. It was, of course, over dramatized for effect as movies tend to be. It would be highly unlikely for that amount of things to happen to any group of people in such a short period of time, with all the interconnected stories and such. Highly unlikely, but not outside the realm of possibility.

That, and it was disturbing. It bothered me. It bothered most people that watched it on some level. And it bothered us because it was not too far off from the things that we've seen or lived or felt.

The mid life crisis.
The emotionally detached marriage.
The feeling stuck in a dead end job.
The craving irresponsibility.
The lusting after shiny and new.
The discomfort in your own skin.
The denial.
The attempts to control other people.
The fact that no one asked how you were in so long you can't even remember.

I can still remember with so much clarity the discussion I got into with a family friend over the movie. It wasn't so much a discussion as an argument, really. I insisted that it was an instant classic, so well done. It was cinematic brilliance, I reasoned. He, a generation older than I was, insisted that it was sick and wrong.

Or maybe it just hit home too much.

I'd make the argument that is exactly what it did for him, knowing what I know now.

Anyhow, it popped up in my recommendations and I couldn't wait to watch it again. Over the past three days, I've re-watched this film, a bit at a time, taking it all in anew.

It's different this time. So very different. I don't so much relate to Rose anymore as I do to her parents these days.

I've lived more than 15 years in the 15 years since this film was released, I'm certain of it.

The things I have seen, the experiences I have had, all changing my perspective on just about everything.

I get Lester now. I feel like I have crawled into his skin and lived his life a little bit, save the part about being obsessed with his daughter's friend of course.

The film is narrated by his voice, and you know from the first moments how it will end - with his death. Dying in those last moments, his words:

I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me... but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday.

What does it mean if I know what he's talking about already?

I think that it means that all the shit I've been through wasn't for nothing. I came out on this side of it all, bruised and scarred sure, but with a wisdom that can only be acquired this way.

Wisdom isn't just an outcome automatically generated by a certain number of years lived, I don't think. I believe that it has a hell of a lot more to do with the experiences we have than it ever will with the number of times we've seen the calendar change. You can live a lot of years and learn almost nothing. You can have lived only to the ripe age of 37 like I have, and learned enough to fill a few lifetimes.

I want to believe that since I'm past so much of the naivete that comes with youth, it necessarily makes me more grounded. I have a perspective that most people my age just don't have, not yet anyway.

Like Lester, I could have let those experiences change me for the worse. I could have used them to wallow and be miserable (and in all honesty, I did for a while).

Instead, they made me stronger.

I get it. Maybe you don't yet. Maybe that's okay.

You will.

1 comment:

  1. I added it to my queue a couple days ago and can't wait to watch it again with new eyes and a different perspective. Great post, Kelly! xoxo

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