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What sets this particular examination apart from the overwhelming bulk of the rest—especially those set in upper middle class white suburbia—is that the dominant parental figure here is not the husband, but the wife.
And it reminded me, actually, of something you wrote, which — I believe it was for The Rumpus. And he’s so tired of the fakery; he’s so tired of everybody faking it in his family. Percy: And he is reaching out to her; he’s trying to tell her, “Look, I’m not OK. ” He’s doing that, repeatedly, with the women in his life. ” And she’s faking, and she says, “No.” And he says, “But that was where we had the laughs.” And she says, “But that was a hospital.” In other words, “You’re sick, and we were sick, and I’m not that anymore. I’m over it.” And of course, the devastating and pivotal moment in the film is when he tries to call her up again and discovers that she’s killed herself.
You said: “Though I love my family, neediness was totally shameful in the house I grew up in. It’s that Conrad has just been really allowed, by the therapist — “You’ve got to feel, and express what you’re feeling, or it’s gonna explode again, and it’s gonna explode in an act of self-destruction. And it’s just this moment where everybody is stunned and troubled, but the kid has done exactly what he needs, to save himself. Percy: He’s really modeling, for us, the way to be vulnerable. It’s not just his mother, but her and then, also, Jeannine, the woman that he goes on a date with. And that’s really what precipitates the big cathartic moment at the end.
So that is really the struggle that plays out in the film. And we move from that, a quick jump cut, to him sitting up… And what the film captures, in a way that is an exaggerated version of what every family struggles with and, certainly, what my family was struggling with and what I was struggling with, is the desire to have the truth come out and a countervening desire to keep it inside and keep it locked in and not let those dangerous, volatile feelings out of the tightly guarded world inside of us. And what’s so striking and unusual is that it is a film in which it is the dad who is the compassionate figure, who is trying— even though he’s been acculturated to stiff upper lip and try to keep it all inside — he recognizes that his kid’s in trouble, and it’s really the mom who cannot really forgive him for being the child who survived. She’s just in so much pain that she can’t even begin to let it out. And it made me think about your own relationship with your mother, Barbara, because you’ve talked a lot about that, and you even did an interview with her when her book came out, , that I thought was so brave of you to do that, publicly — do an interview with your mother.
Literally, from the first moment of the film, you see this kid — the first shot is him, singing in a chorus, and he’s actually singing. And it showed how honest and direct your relationship was with your own mother, which is very different from what we see Conrad and Beth exhibit in the movie.
And, in a sense, they were very attuned to the inner life, and I was, clearly — as a kid I went to therapy.
I was anxious; I was really struggling to feel and make sense of my feelings, so I understood that part of the film.
Like Conrad himself, the reader is likely to fall into the trap of assigning Calvin Jarrett’s submissive position toward his wife to weakness on his part.
Yes, Calvin does fulfill the more submissive role in this marriage, but eventually the reader comes to appreciate—like Conrad—that this role is not the result of weakness on the part of his father, but actually a strength more profound and significantly less demonstrative than that exhibited by his mother.
The effect of guilt, the novel seems to suggest, can be both positive and negative, but whatever the ultimate consequences may be, one thing remains fully intact: no other person is the one singular agent of change in another person’s life.
That role forever remains solely the domain of the person who changes and is the decision they make and those decisions alone which bear ultimate responsibility for the way any life turns out.