"There it is"-- I surprised myself with how excited that came out.
"I see it."
I let the credits roll to the end, then rewound to pause with our son's name just crossing the sea-sky horizon line. Over a year ago, on his 6th anniversary in fact, we contributed to the Kickstarter campaign for a movie called Return to Zero. They had a crazy-good cast and a babylost dad for a writer-director. I hoped they'd get it right.
Turns out, a lot happens for a movie between the end editing and when the general public gets to see it. For this movie, that included being pitched to various film festivals, and eventually being selected for two. And even more eventually, a deal for TV distribution, on Lifetime.
We couldn't watch the movie the night that it premiered-- we had a friend staying the weekend, and this was something we had to watch just by ourselves. So we recorded it and watched it on a weeknight. And I've been trying to figure out how to talk about it ever since.
A few days before we watched the movie, I read online someone talking about how her family is split into readers and not-so-much-with-the-reading individuals. People in the latter category, she said, believe that if a book is any good, eventually someone will make a movie of it. The first thought that popped into my head was "but what if the book is your life?" Not in the way that some books inspire entire fandoms, but in the very literal sense of key event in this movie is also a key event in your life, and the movie is about that?
People have serious, long, branching arguments about how much liberty filmmakers are allowed to take with source material, and about how changing this one thing here completely destroys the narrative from the book. I've witnessed a fair share of these discussions, heck-- participated in more than a few myself. But what if there is no canonical narrative? What if the world is splintered into a million versions of the story? I so wanted them to get it right. And suddenly, just on the precipice of watching the movie, I realized that "getting it right" was a lot to ask. Because what I was actually asking for was for them to have gotten it right for me, for how I see the world, for how I experienced my son's death. There's a lot of us out there. And while there are the bits of living with your child(ren)'s death(s) that I'd describe as classic hits, there are also parts that are far less universal.
I realized that I both wanted the movie to be good and needed it to be good-- after all, my son's name is literally attached to it. That is a combustible mixture, and sitting on it was making me apprehensive. Because what if it isn't good? What if going forward I wouldn't be able to refer an asshat to that movie for clarification? What if, instead, an asshat would be able to use it as ammunition?
Knowing that we were going to watch the movie, Monkey asked me to pause the screen at the end with her brother's name on it. The next morning I turned the TV on for her to see. As she studied the screen, she asked whether the movie was good. I skipped a beat, unsure how to answer.
Because here's the thing. Minnie Driver is impossibly great. She had perfect pitch, hitting the exact right note with her face and her body every millisecond she was on screen. Bewilderment, anger, frustration, indignation, determination, indifference, shock, and-- and I have no words for how deeply I appreciate that she could play this so exactly right-- the hollowing grief. Twice during the movie I made JD chuckle by yelling out "Fuck you, lady!" a beat before Minnie's character delivered a more dignified and more appropriate retort. The plot of the movie doesn't exactly match our story, relationships in the movie are not exactly like the ones in our extended family. But the cast is great and they get at the emotional truths of the life after so well that the context in which they operate doesn't much matter.
Except for this one thing, one scene really. The scene that goes straight to the million fractured versions of the story issue. See, one of the foundational views of my life after is that for me there is absolutely nothing in the plus column of A's death. I was already a pretty kick ass mother, and I certainly didn't get to be "more available" to my living children, either the one who was already here when A died or the two who came after, because he died.
If I was to name one good thing that I found in the after-space that I wouldn't have had if A lived, without a doubt I would name the community of babylost parents. The people I met online and in person in those first desperate months, and who are still my friends now, seven years on. This community at large. It sucks that we are here, AND I am glad to know you. But that's me. And I didn't make the movie, writer-director Sean Hannish did. And I get that the scene represents a true and important understanding in his narrative.
I told Monkey that the movie was good, that I only had one real issue with it, and for a movie on this sensitive a subject only having one issue is not bad at all. Fortunately for me, I don't see the character who articulates this view as central to the narrative, and I certainly don't think the scene is. When my DVD arrives, I will skip over that scene. Julia's cut, if you will.
Had you heard about the movie before it aired? Did you see it? What did you think?
More generally, have you ever had to render judgement on a project that hit close to home, whether in the babylost realm or not? How did you feel going in? How did it turn out?