Movies that tackle grief hit close to home

Spoiler Alert: this post reveals plot details of the Oscar-nominated movies Hugo and The Descendants.

Sometimes grief hits you at the most inconvenient time. Like when you’re sitting in a theater watching a movie with hundreds of other people. This happened to me recently after watching Hugo and The Descendants. Both movies, while very different, deal with the loss of a loved one in a way that resonated with me because of my dad’s recent death.

In the first film, the main character, 12-year-old Hugo Cabret, yearns to connect with his father through a broken automaton – a mechanical man. Hugo believes it has a message from his father, if he can only fix it. Despite many obstacles, he’s determined to connect the pieces of this mystery because it is, as he says, the only thing he has left of his father. It’s a sweet film but not overly sentimental.

I read recently Brian Selznick’s explanation about his book on which the movie is based. Selznick’s dad died shortly before he began writing the book. Initially, he didn’t want the father in the story to die so he kept the character alive. Ultimately, however, Selznick realized that the father’s death and the boy’s love for his dad would make the story more meaningful and powerful.

Indeed. As I watched the scenes of Hugo talking about his father, I found myself thinking about my dad and how much I missed him. I could feel the boy’s pain and understand the longing to reconnect with his dad. In Hugo’s case, the automaton and the help he receives from people he meets along the way, make that connection possible. In my own, I’m often reminded of my dad through the things I encounter, as I wrote about in a recent blog post – an old baseball cap, people I run into and notes from my visits with him.

In The Descendants, George Clooney’s character, Matt King, deals with a wife who is comatose in the hospital. The situation is complicated by a hurtful secret he learns toward the beginning of the movie. In what is arguably the most powerful scene of the film, an emotional and tearful Clooney says goodbye to the wife – despite what happened between them.

But it’s the final scene of the film that had the biggest impact on me. King and his daughters are in a canoe releasing his wife’s ashes into the sea. There was closure. Finality. An opportunity to say to goodbye for good.

We haven’t had that chance yet. We haven’t buried my dad’s ashes. Despite saying goodbye to him in the funeral home, at a rosary and during mass, I don’t feel I’ve had closure.

I sobbed uncontrollably as I watched that last scene in The Descendants. On the one hand, I was sad about the wife’s fate and her family’s grief, but also aware that my own loss still leaves much to be resolved.

Movies are often an escape for viewers – a nice departure from reality and a way to forget about your own worries. But I think great films stir your soul and leave you thinking about your own life. It’s tough to forget those kinds of films.

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2 comments on “Movies that tackle grief hit close to home

  1. I agree that “great films stir your soul and leave you thinking about your own life.” I recently read that good writing doesn’t get the reader to experience the writer’s emotion as much as it [should] take the reader (movie viewer) to a place where he experiences his own emotion about the situation. These movies did that for you.

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  2. Thanks for your comments, Mary! I appreciate you reading my blog.

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