Well, I have another movie to file under “hard to watch”; coincidentally, it’s also filed under “necessary to watch.” It came at just the right time in my life and I’m going to tell you how poignant it is, but forewarning; here, there be spoilers.
The movie begins with a scene immediately set; a troubled boy being bullied at school, having nightmares about a great pit swallowing everything around him, a sick single mother at home with multitudes of medications cascading across her vanity. The very idea of cancer is pervasive in our culture. Whether or not we’ve experienced it, we know when it’s being portrayed. I’ve seen many a movie with a plot of dealing with cancer, so I was wondering if this movie would offer anything new or meaningful to me on that subject.
On a personal note; I haven’t been posting on this blog lately because for quite some time my father has been battling stage 4 renal cell lung cancer. I didn’t really know what this movie was about going into it, which is for the best, because had I known, I might not have watched it. I can’t tell you how close I was to my father. Like the boy, Conor, relied on his mother for emotional nourishment, I relied on my father to be the one person who always understood me even when others would wash their hands of me. The further I got into this movie, the more I had to strengthen my resolve to face this sadness.
Not long into this feature another important character presents himself. The monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) is a larger than life tree creature who promptly interjects himself into the boys life at 12:07 on the dot. He says he’s there as a healer and desperately the boy assumes this creature would be able to solve all his problems and heal his mother of her illness. The monster insists that Conor will listen to him tell three tales and then Conor will tell the fourth tale, all the while never saying for certain that Conor’s mother would survive.
The three tales given guide this child through various stages of grief. But the grief of experiencing loss before it happens is unique; it’s anger, and loneliness, and desperation of the highest degree. It’s wanting to destroy things and sometimes… it’s guilt. As important as the monster’s stories were to me, clearly defining some of the more tumultuous feelings I had as I watched my father grow more and more ill, Conor’s story was the most heart-wrenching and honest. The monster demands he speak the truth, the horrible truth, the guilt-filled truth….
It’s hard to separate myself from this. To tell you Conor’s truth is to tell you my truth and just like for him, it is hard for me to express it. In a screaming fit of resistance met with emotional exhaustion, Connor finally shouted, “I just want it to be over!” And that is a brutal truth that people will deny in themselves which makes this movie important to those who have to grieve in such a tragic way. Cancer isn’t just an illness of its host. It’s an illness of the whole familial unit. There weren’t many people I could admit it to outright. When I found out my father was sick my immediate response was action and that stayed my response until a few short months before his passing. After some time of hiding in the cooler at work to cry, and running back and forth to pursue different treatments, and watching my father grow weaker from those treatments, and watching my family members suffer in their own way, slowly but surely my resolve to action dwindled and gave way to the desire for resolution. Any resolution at all. I kept that to myself for the longest because how could I ever just accept the loss of the most important person in my life?
Well, the answer is I still haven’t accepted it, but I let go of some of the guilt that came with the natural reaction of just wanting to stop the pain.
So, long story short, I highly recommend this film for those who need help navigating their complex emotions when it seems like no one can quite understand them. And know you’re not alone. Your grief is your own and no one gets to tell you how to experience it.