Sunday, March 8, 2020

a few of the loves gained and lost through the years

Mar. 6

Last night, I streamed “The Handmaiden” (2016) which is amazing—and thanks to the stop-and-start option of streaming, one can be sure to not get frustrated by subtitle reading amid major action. Later discussing this feminist fable of duplicity will be fun.

Now, I’m going to stream “The Souvenir” (2019).

Mar. 8

“The Souvenir” is well done. I read that it received highest honors at Sundance. I see why—but I didn’t like it. I recognized that I was seeing mature filmmaking that I didn’t like, then slept into Daylight Saving Time resenting Julie’s naïveté, her being seduced into a Rescuer role by her suave (and phony) boyfriend’s control of her. I became an impatient woman wanting Julie to grow up faster.

But that was the mature filmmaker’s reason for her slow-paced, documentary-style story: It’s about a young filmmaker learning that learning never ends. Though the title is supposedly taken from the name of a painting seen early on, the film itself is a souvenir of an era in the filmmaker’s maturation. (“The Souvenir, part II” is due for release this year.)

The woman playing Julie—Tilda Swinton’s daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne—looks like a woman I was in love with when I was 26: Jane was 21, same age as Honor.

Jane was an art student, but I learned, after a couple of years together, that she lacked the ambition needed to survive in the art business.

I must write, melodramatic as that may seem. I wanted her calling to be necessary for her. I wanted us to have comple-
mentary lives. I wanted partnership.

I eventually resented her lack of persistence. Though I was always wanting to be her anchor, when she needed that, I needed that with her, too. But I was an obscurity: a mind with no name: being somewhere amid conceptual literary amusements (a notion I hadn’t articulated as such while obsessed with Derrida, etc.), political Critical Theory (Habermas), incessant journal writing (as if my life was a boring novel—at best, “A History” in mere outline)—an obscurity supporting us by whatever job would keep me creatively afloat until I finished my PhD in philosophy.

I saw more potential for her life than she saw herself—which was surely partly why she loved me.

Because I loved her, I couldn’t say to her that I lost the inspir-
ation of “us.” I could endorse her effort to find a good job in Boston, and promise to move there after finishing my degree in Berkeley.

But I didn’t follow.

Over the decades, she made a career as graphic illustrator, I discovered last year. She married a doctor in Atlanta. I stayed in the S.F. Bay Area.

Thirty years after Jane left for Boston, a 25 year-old woman, E.W., came to work in my department. Her aura—not suggestive of Jane at all!—overtook my life, though I appreciated quite well that E.W. was a muse of imagination.

I became driven to make all I could of her presence, while ensuring that I didn’t confound any working relationship (nor disrespect that she was engaged to be married—though passively so, she caused me to feel;and not wanting motherhood, she caused me to feel). In college, E.W. wanted to become a film-
maker. Instead, she became a Literary reader whose life was her fiancé. I saw creative potential that she was suppressing. I want-
ed her to want independence that would actualize her talent.

That discomfited her, casually at first, then deeply enough that she avoided me completely around the department, soon after she formally married and was pregnant.

I woke this morning amazed to see a melding of presence in Julie. Indeed, Honor Byrne at 21 looks uncannily like Jane; E.W. like an older version of Jane, and Julie is the persistent artist that I loved to see in each of them. Julie is an uncomfortable synergy mirroring parts of my past.