Sunday, February 26, 2017


Last week I came home from a conference and was unpacking; I turned on the TV and watched, off and on, this French movie.  I admit to not watching every single minute of it.

I had a feeling of what was going to happen in the film, but cringed in shock when it did.  Spoiler alert, although spoiler alert assumes you are recommending a movie, which I am not.

An elderly couple are living out their lives in a tony Parisian apartment after lives as musicians.  The wife has a bad stroke and is miserable, in pain and bedridden.  The man cares for her.  She isn't getting better.  He feels the stress.  No one is helping, not really, especially the children, but he won't send her to a facility because she always said she didn't want that.  So one day he smothers her with a pillow and kills her.  To cover up the smell he closes up the room with tape.  Then he dies, or kills himself; that part is not clear, but he wakes up and they go for a walk.

Critics of course love this kind of stuff.  I like to watch nonEnglish movies sometimes because they seem to focus more on the cinematography, acting, visuals, and story than the dialogue, or at least I, dependent on subtitles, feel that way.  This film did have very good acting but also long shots of the camera just looking at stationary objects, such as paintings.  In other words, it was slow, but that befitted the content.

Still, I can admire a work of art and not like it.  I think that is one of the problems with our experience of art; for some reason we think we have to like something that is well done, and if we don't like it, either something is wrong with us or the art isn't "good."  That's nonsense.  Liking and a judgment of "quality" are not the same thing, any more than they are mutually exclusive.  I understand why Faulkner's novels are brilliant.  I doubt I will ever choose to read another one.

What I don't like is that this kind of art makes us feel not just empathy for the husband who has to care for his wife--who wouldn't--but helps us excuse his action, which is reprehensible.  Her desire not to be in a home where she could be cared for does not trump the wrongness of his intentional murder of her.  She was wrong to expect that of him in the first place; maybe it was her wish, but then she makes him a murderer.  The film sets up a dramatic false dilemma, which I find often happens in Hollywood, which has no mirror in reality.  Yes, things are not easy, but when a loved one can no longer care for the invalid, there are other options, not just murder.

Part of the problem in this film is that the man does not want help from his daughter, who would like to help, and that he appears to have no community around him.  When we lose community outside our immediate partner or children and refuse help from others, we paint ourselves into a corner.  So, in a sense, the dramatic world is so constructed that his murderous action seems inevitable and therefore, somehow, right.

The title of the film is love, which is ironic.

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