Wednesday, July 6, 2011
As We Were Meant to Be Seen
Yesterday afternoon, the rain was pouring outside, I had a pint of cappuccino gelato, and I watched Enchanted April. What a superb combination. It brings me great sorrow to know that few people have seen the movie. Fast: Get thee to a Blockbuster or a Netflix or a nunnery, or wherever you obtain your movies, and watch this film!
I'll try not to descend too far into a salivating review of all that makes the movie so scrumptious, but I will tell you just a bit about it. At first glance, it might seem that this movie is simply a women's romantic, escapist movie. It's about four British women who want to get away from their dreary, wearying lives and rent a villa in Italy for the month of April.
At second glance, it might seem that this movie will be another feminist awakening movie, in which the female heroines discover their sexuality and eschew the conventions of husband and home. I always loved Kate Chopin's writing, and even the book The Awakening itself. But although I agree that women can become trapped and blurred in the ordinariness of life, I certainly reject that the solution to this problem is to romantically drown oneself in the ocean.
But this movie is not romantic escape nor feminist manifesto. It instead is (in part) a beautiful portrayal of the renewal of love between estranged husbands and wives. Each of the four woman are on a different journey, and I'll simply focus on the two married ones. Both of the women, Lottie and Rose, are sick to death of their husbands. Lottie's husband is preoccupied with business and only considers her (along with everything else in life) as a means to his business ends. Lottie in turn is needy, clingy and desperate for his approval. Rose's husband is also preoccupied with his exciting life as a romance novelist and really doesn't know how to relate to his religious, stodgy wife. Rose on her part is judgmental and closed off, assuming she bores her husband.
So Lottie and Rose decide to escape from their lots and their husbands and rent a villa in Italy. As soon as they get there, Lottie seems to soak up all the beauty around her like a parched flower. Once she herself feels full of the beauty around her, she realizes how she has been withholding her love (and her beauty, therefore) from her husband. Her love has been conditional on being loved back exactly how she wants to be loved. But a needy and simpering person is always hard to love.
She realizes that it would be wrong to withhold this enchanted place from her husband and invites him to the villa. He comes perhaps more to hobnob with her influential friends than to be with her, but when he sees the new Lottie - not coming to him as a needy, neglected wife, but as a fulfilled, confident woman - he finally realizes how beautiful she is. He tells her, "You're so beautiful." "You think I'm beautiful?" she asks in wonder. "Yes. My only question is, why weren't you beautiful sooner?" When we don't come to marriage with needs and conditions to be met, but as confident whole people, our beauty naturally shines through.
And then there is Rose. Rose doesn't want to invite her husband because she's sure he is not interested in her. And he's not. He in fact shows up in hopes of bumping into the beautiful single woman they are sharing the villa with, Caroline. He is, seemingly, creeping towards an affair. Rose, in turn, self-righteous though she is, flirts with the owner of the villa and seems to be tiptoeing her own way toward an affair.
Rose is so sure that her husband doesn't love her and isn't interested that by the time he shows up at the villa (not to see her, but she doesn't know that), that she is overwhelmed and passionately embraces and kisses him. He is flabbergasted that his rigid, cold wife has turned into this beautiful, passionate woman. He is able to see her as she truly is, or as she was meant to be and he is enraptured and forgets all about the beautiful single woman.
Perhaps this seems a bit naive and romantic and to put too much weight on the woman's responsibility. But the movie doesn't dismiss the husband's oafishness. It does, however, show how a simple change in the wives' attitudes can have a tremendous impact on the behavior of the husbands. It doesn't skirt away from the difficult issues - that marriages are hard and people have affairs - but it does show that we can each make small decisions that can turn the direction of a marriage. It's like the Love Dare in Fireproof, but in a far more palatable setting for one such as me.
My favorite part is this, after Rose and her husband have reconciled, Lottie and Caroline speak about Rose:
Caroline: "Isn't she beautiful?"
Lottie: "[It's] love...You know it's a great thing to get on with one's loving and not to waste time. I suppose you think that Rose's husband is just a middle-aged, red-faced rather ordinary man, but he isn't."
Caroline: "Isn't he?"
Lottie: "No. Rose sees through all that. She sees what we can't see because she loves him."
Eros love, when unhindered by our expectations and critical attitudes, allows us to see through the superficialities to the true essence of a person. When I look at Michael, I don't see what others see, a short blonde guy with ice cream stains all over his clothing who isn't always taken seriously. I see...well, I won't tell you what I see because it would make you uncomfortable, but it's good. Likewise, when Mike looks at me, he doesn't see my bitten-to-the-nub fingernails, split ends and chapped lips. He sees me, as much as one can this side of heaven, as I was meant to be seen. And that's pretty wonderful.
So if you, too, want to descend in mushy thoughts like these, you should go watch this movie.
(By the way if there are any men left reading this, my husband, though skeptical at first, also really enjoyed this movie. It doesn't hurt that it has two actors he likes, Alfred Molina and Jim Broadbent. But it also has such a positive message for marriage, that you should watch it with your wives. :) )