Love Is Not Always EnoughBy Emma Pearson
December 6, 2023
Image by freestocks on Unsplash
5 March 2023
Last night I saw “The Son”, which I knew would be a hard film.
(** Spoiler Alerts ** Don’t read if you want to see the film **)
I knew from the trailer that it was about teenage struggle – possibly linked to mental health issues related to loss, gender- or sexual-orientation, or other. I suspected, also from the trailer, that there’d be a suicide attempt. And I could tell from the trailer that the acting – particularly by Hugh Jackman – would be superlative. Added to that, that Anthony Hopkins, with his fierce and majestic beauty, his piercing blue eyes, and his dulcet Welsh tones, also performed in it, meant that it was “une évidence” that I’d make time to see it.
So off I popped to see it with Medjool. Only our second film of the weekend!
The film WAS hard to watch.
It IS a good film.
The film is getting good reviews.
The film does tackle mental health well, and seriously.
And yet…, I felt strangely unaffected by it.
A little bit later, while we were slurping our Udon Noodle soup, Medjool asked if I wanted to talk about it.
“No – not really”.
But immediately, I wondered, “why don’t I?”
Sometimes I need space and time after watching a film before I can begin to discuss, explore, excavate its inner impact. Sometimes I can do it straight away. Sometimes I can’t ever go back over it. And sometimes, the film doesn’t warrant it.
But for this film – I just felt strangely dissociated. Disconnected. Almost unmoved.
Or rather, split.
I felt moved as a viewer. As an observer. As a bog-standard member of the audience.
I was profoundly moved by the young boy’s experience of being so lost in his world. By the estranged parents’ sense of powerlessness in making any of his experience better for him.
But considering so much of this story overlapped with so much of my story, I thought I would be more affected as a mum-viewer. As a mum who has a child with depression. As a mum (or parent) struggling alone to understand her child’s inner world. As a parent who can appreciate the enormity of what her child has lost in life, and can do zippo to make any of it better.
The film just couldn’t reach me though – not in that way.
And I am curious why.
Medjool and I did talk about it. I have reflected further on it.
I think that, in part, I just can’t go there. There’s way too much of my own much pain and grief and loss for me to not be capable – consciously or unconsciously – of expending surplus energy on a film that – while surely based on myriad real lives – is not in and of itself a “true story”.
I think mostly though the film simply didn’t reflect “my story”. Too many of the details were alien. Wrong. Out of whack.
Both parents were alive in the film – if also divorced.
Not my story.
The boy had choice as to where to live. With dad or with mum.
Not my story.
The dad was particularly useless at listening, exploring, asking questions, showing interest in his child.
Not my story. (Oh – how I wanted to shake him, to slap him, to get him to just SHUT UP and listen to his child).
And of course, the gun.
Not my story.
The mother was so full of angst and fear, still reeling from the loss of her husband.
Okay – a bit more my story. Even if her loss was divorce and my loss was death.
And the horrendous inevitability of it all. The knowing. The seeing what was bound to happen way before it did, in slow motion, scene by scene, pixel by pixel. Feeling that perhaps I might reach into the screen and put up my hand to stop the inevitable from happening.
My ability to read so much into every single word the young lad said to his parents.
Right down to the “You don’t deserve this”, and “I love you so much”.
That part – that was definitely my story.
If not when it was actually the story I was living.
If not when I was living into that story, in that moment.
In the film, I saw it all before it was going to happen.
I read the text and subtext, the highlights and the lowlights. I could even read all the footnotes and every single one of the script’s cues.
But I couldn’t see it as it was about to happen in my story.
I barely saw any of it.
Is that why I cannot allow myself to be fully touched by this film?
Is that why I claim it is not my story?
Because good or less good, loving or less loving, capable or less capable I might have been as a parent, “Love isn’t always enough” (*)
That simple truth that I don’t want to accept.
Even when I know it to be true.
The harsh, naked truth.
My love was not enough to keep Julia alive.
I failed. We all failed in that regard.
My love. Our love. Love. Was not enough for Julia.
(*) This is a line from the psychiatrist as he counsels the parents to keep their child in care.