Sunday, January 22, 2006

Thoughts provoked by the film "The United States of Leland": More from Jake's Mother

Thanks to my son, Jake, who introduced me to one of the most remarkable films I have yet to see, "The United States of Leland", I have been engaged in a dialogue both with Jake and myself (and the boy, Leland) and discovering some interesting, very thought-provoking insights into my own psyche.

The concept of "goodness" (unlike what we consider as "evil") has always fascinated me and I would love to know what makes a saint. Is there such a thing? By comparison, someone like Hitler, does not interest me. Neither do I believe that evil is the opposite to goodness, although I'm not sure what I mean by that.

Leland, the writer, saying "We are afraid of what is good in us because if we took responsibility for it, we'd realize we could be good all the time" has struck me so forcibly that I think I will strive for sainthood. No, sorry to be flippant, but this awareness, as expressed by Leland, has affected me deeply.

Similarly, we are afraid of joy, as though it is beyond our understanding and hopes, whereas pain, horrible as it is, makes us aware we are alive: I suffer, therefore I exist.

To return to the film. Watching it for the second time, I closed my eyes in order to listen to the "writing", as written by Hoge, who is also the director. He is a wonderful writer and so I was able to understand even more of the film through the writing, as opposed to the images created by the actors. (I experienced something similar with "Dogville").

For me, one of the beauties of Hoge's film is his compassion, his ability to show the pain of every single person (even the father), and, of course, true compassion means no judgement. One loved and understood every single person in that film. The "villain" - the father - was the saddest of them all; he was the most lost.

Where I do not quite share Jake's view that through suffering all those people were opened up in some way to a better understanding of their lives is because it doesn't fit with how so many people are not wiser and better, more loving through tragedy. It seems, generally, that couples who experience the death of a child are not brought closer and often separate. The anger and bitterness they feel cuts them off from love when they most need it.

But perhaps, as Jake says, it is enough for one person to have learnt, i.e. the character of Pearl; and, yet, he was an outsider, he could observe in the way the family members could not.

I think the boy, Leland, was emotionally and irretrievably damaged by his father and, together with his capacity to over-empathise, he was too fragile to cope with his conflicting emotions and he over-identified with the boy he killed. He and the boy became united, in his mind, with unbearable suffering. Leland also wanted to die. He provoked and asked for his own death.

There are people who are too fragile for this life. It doesn't mean they are weak or pathetic and often, like Leland, they have an understanding beyond the norm of the rest of the world.

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