I received an email a couple of months ago from a good friend of mine and a fraternity-in-loss brother:
I watched a very good movie about life, love and loss. It’s called Life Itself. I found it on Prime Video. I do have to warn you: there are scenes that will really hit home hard for you, but the message at the end really resonated with me. The ratings don’t do it justice. I guess you have to experience loss to understand the power behind the message.
Chris knows me well, our story, and I trust his judgment and paid attention to his “heads-up.”
I had seen promotions of the film on Prime Video and that it was written and directed by Don Fogelman. He’s the creator and director of the This Is Us TV series that we like a lot.
So, Hilary and I gave it a shot a few weeks ago.
Here’s the trailer for the film:
As Chris mentioned, the film received terrible reviews: ‘Farfetched,’ ‘totally improbable plot,’ ‘completely obsessed with gratuitous violence and similar ploys to tug the heart strings’…and so forth. I share Chris’s belief that many will have that reaction, particularly those who have not experienced heart-breaking, unbearable loss and the seemingly inexplicable synchronicities and similar phenomenon that are sucked in through the holes in our hearts.
But for those of you who have….I suspect your take—and reward—will be very similar to ours.
Fogelman is reviled for straying too far out there. Personally, I think he has even more room to roam.
The film has a great cast including Oscar Isaac, Annette Benning, Mandy Patinkin, and Antonio Banderas, with narration by the ubiquitous—no one has been in as many films as me—Samuel L. Jackson.
That said, I cannot unequivocally recommend the film to everyone, not knowing your tolerance for violence or where you come out on the Richter Scale of “No way that could ever f_____ing happen.”
SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you think you might want to watch Life Itself unfiltered by what I might say. I will not give too much away, but I am going to reveal and talk about one of the film’s two ending monologues.
As forewarned, the movie hits you within the first fifteen minutes with two, related, violent deaths: blunt force trauma and suicide by self-inflicted gunshot. That hit very close to home indeed with the deaths of our son and my father. I almost grabbed for the remote and bailed. I’m glad we didn’t.
At its core, Life Itself is a love story. In one of the final scenes, the character Elena Dempsey-Gonzalez, a young woman in her late twenties, is in a bookstore speaking to a group of people about her book:
I’m not sure whose story I have been telling. I’m not sure if it is mine, or if it’s some character’s I have yet to meet. I’m not sure of anything. All I know is that, at any moment, life will surprise me. It will bring me to my knees, and when it does, I will remind myself… I will remind myself that I am my father. And I am my father’s father. I am my mother. And I am my mother’s mother. And while it may be easy to wallow in the tragedies that shape our lives, and while it’s natural to focus on those unspeakable moments that bring us to our knees, we must remind ourselves that if we get up, if we take the story a little bit farther…
If we go far enough, there’s love.
Admittedly, Elena’s character and words are out of context—the movie will flesh that out.
Elena’s monologue moved Hilary and me to tears and at multiple levels. She touches upon so many of the things I’ve been struggling with and thinking and writing about. Things all of us are thinking about at one time or another.
Who am I…what am I doing here?
Can I really say I know anything is for certain?
In our post Healing With History, I wrote of the grounding and comfort from researching the stories of our ancestors, our predecessors—every one of them has suffered loss and other calamities of life. No one is getting out of here alive. [James Morrison, The Doors]
I’m reminded of one of my grandmother Henrietta’s favorite sayings shared in Almost Ellisville : We are never completely free of the instruments that fashioned us. We are a continuation, another chapter, just one more character, of a story where, I suspect, the concepts of “beginning” and “end” don’t exist, and for some strange reason I find great comfort in that.
I am my father and my father’s father. I am my son’s and daughter’s father. I am not alone or separate from them. We are together-always and forever together.
I’m not sure of anything.
Except for one thing. Love is a force and bond that survives death. It cannot be broken.
‘It is a fearful thing—to love what that death can touch… It is a holy thing to love what death has touched. [Rabbi Chaim Stern]
Those unspeakable moments that bring us to our knees.
In our post THE CHOICE WE MAKE we included this quote from Tom Zuba’s terrific book, Permission to Mourn: You have two voices in your head… you get to decide which voice you listen to…make room for. In spite of-or maybe because- suffering three unbearable losses of three people he deeply loves, his wife and two children, Tom has chosen life itself.
If we get up…if we take the story a little bit farther…there’s love.
And I’ll close with this from my favorite poet.
Doubt is a bad idea
And this death not even a trailhead
On the endless loop through ourselves;
That when my body lies flat in the tall grass,
The rest of me bounds up the hill.
(© 2007 Jimmy Gauntt)
What do you say we all choose to go a little bit farther.