I went to the movies by myself last night. In my early 20’s, this was a fairly regular practice. I was living in Boston in an attic apartment with no air conditioning and little heat. I found a $5 movie theater that showed second-run movies and most important, had air conditioning and heat. A medium popcorn made a passable dinner.
While those days are long behind me (I hope), I still, and always will love the movies. I have a particular fondness for mostly empty theatres (but not the creepy kind with guys in trench coats and dark glasses). I can even forgo the reclining lounge seats for a good film. This was the case last night.
A friend recently shared their angst on social media trying to decide if they wanted to see “The Whale” for which Brendan Fraser received a Best Actor Oscar nomination and earned SAG and Critics’ Choice Awards for the same category (well-earned IMHO). The title pays homage to Melville’s “Moby Dick”, which is woven throughout the story. My friend’s post, or more accurately my friends’ deep conflict about seeing it, compelled me to see it.
The story centers around Brendan Fraser’s character Charlie, a morbidly obese man who teaches college online. The story unfolds over a week in the confines of Charlie’s apartment where he has imprisoned himself physically and emotionally. The other characters intersect with Charlie throughout the film weaving their stories together in a patchwork of emotional pain, each expressing it with their own particular brand.
I didn’t come to this realization immediately. As I drove home I thought primarily about Charlie, about self-soothing with food, something I did with some regularity earlier in my life. I put all of this in my back pocket, went home, and drifted off to sleep.
Having coffee with friends this morning, the themes of the film came up. Each of the characters was carrying pain: loneliness, abandonment, mourning, guilt, shame, regret. And each of them expressed it in what seemed like the only way possible for them. I thought about the many ways emotional pain is expressed in everyday life.
High-functioning, socially engaged, well-rested individuals who’ve recently eaten (not hungry, angry, lonely, or tired) might exercise, talk about their pain with a friend or therapist, make art, or articulate it in a blog post or journal. So how does that pain look in less than these optimal conditions? It looks a lot like life.
It’s pain in the form of anger, impatience, sarcasm, shouting, slamming doors, road rage, retribution, insolent silence, or violence. It’s pain from abandonment, loneliness, betrayal, guilt, shame, and regret in the form of tears, blame, co-dependence, outrage, retaliation, or self-harm in its many forms.
When I am in the thick of my pain, it is very hard to see out of it. I am fortunate to have the language, people, and places to share it. Not everyone does and I have to remember that before I rush to judgment of who and what someone is when they act in ways I don’t like. Because, really, who and what they are, are people who are in pain.