Friday, April 22, 2016

Grieving and Gleaning

'I will close with what Meadow once told me about being an artist.  It is partly a confidence game.  And partly magic.  But to make something you also need to be a gleaner.  What is a gleaner?  Well, it is a nice word for a thief, except you take what no one wants.  Not just unusual ideas or things.  You look closely at the familiar to discover what everyone else overlooks or ignores or discards."  From Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta

Two recent films I saw have their roots in grief:  Demolition (above; director Jean Marc Vallée and writer Bryan Sipe, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts; and director Karyn Kusama's The Invitation (below), 

a combination grief drama/paranoid thriller/horror film written by Phil Hay (Kusama's husband) and his writing partner Matt Manfredi, with a diverse ensemble cast led by the riveting "paranoid," Logan Marshall-Green (below).  

Ironically--or coincidentally--Spiotta's novel centers around two characters who are close friends and filmmakers.  One, Carrie (quoted above) is a mainstream director; the other, Meadow, is a obsessive, boundary-pushing documentarian.

I'm only about 70% through the novel, but when I read the passage above today, it made me think about these two films, Kusama's 

in particular.  She and her writers glean from the horror genre and expand upon it, rooting it in what is real and true:  a divorced couple still reeling with grief years after the loss of a lost child (and a lost marriage).  Add to that the paranoid thriller element, and you have a contained horror film that's a hybrid and a very effective elevated genre film.

Demolition deals with grief more straightforwardly--perhaps a tad too literally. Jake Gyllenhaal's character, who has, at the top of the film, lost his wife in an auto accident, expels his anger at a malfunctioning vending machine in a hospital by writing a letter of complaint to their customer service rep (Naomi Watts), but it comes out long and confessional, and you can guess the rest.  What I liked about the letter, though, was its psychological plausibility.  Jake's character also befriends Watts's character's son, whom he enlists to literally demolish the starkly modern house the grieving husband shared with his late wife.  It's a bit too schematic that he takes this to the extremes he does in order to "rebuild" his life, and there's a reveal about the deceased wife towards the end that's a cheap way to make it okay for Gyllenhaal to commit to Watts so quickly, but I nevertheless appreciated that there were many ways in which the film presented an accurate depiction of grief, despite how outlandish it seemed.  By which I mean that there is no "normal" way to grieve.  And needless to say, Gyllenhaal's performance was largely responsible for making this film work as well as it does (in a Q & A with the writer and director, they revealed that every other actor they approached passed on the project, even though the script had made The Blacklist--an annual list of the best unproduced screenplays that development execs have read that year).

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross even disavowed her theory of the stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  Not everyone goes through every stage; not everyone grieves in the same way; there is no "normal" or "typical" timeline for grief (in fact, it may never end; our losses become part of who we are).

This week I also began treating a new patient presenting with grief over his father's death.  And then Prince died (more on Prince and Bowie in another post).  And so it is the grieving time.  It is always the gleaning time--for all of us.

Here are the trailers for the films:

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