Saturday, February 27, 2010

movie: 'Precious'

Today is Saturday. I've been trying to watch all the Oscar nominated films and just finished watching 'Precious.' The movie is produced by Oprah and Tyler Perry. Would this story have come to screen without these producers?

I'm writing this for two reasons today. One - about something that happened in the middle of my viewing; the other for a review I read.

First, about the movie: It's a hard tale from 1987, inspired by the book 'Push.' The director was behind the movies: 'The Woodsman,' with Kevin Bacon, and 'Monster's Ball.' Central to the director's life and Oprah's as well are themes of poverty, abuse, and rape - both things that these two have experienced in their life.

Precious is 16 years old and pregnant with her second child. She is a Republican's worst nightmare. Her mother, sits fat off the welfare system while she grooms her daughter for the same. Precious's mother tells her she wish she'd aborted her, that she's a dummy, and beats her. Precious has never had a boyfriend. Her children are from her father. Her mother we find is so terrible to her because she resents her for 'stealing her man.' Grim stuff. Believe it or not, that's not the worst of it, but I don't want to give any more away.

The story follows a somewhat predictable story arc of redemption through education and the entry of people who -for once in her life - give a damn. She begins learning to read, finding friends in her small GED class, and manages to get away from her mother.

It's a tough story, but one that needs telling - and it shows how dreams can shelter us. Mention the word 'dream,' in front of some people, and you'll face snickering. One critic (in the minority) felt he'd take the air out of the good reviews:

"Daniels (the director) doesn’t really have subjects — they’re pawns, campy cut-outs at best — and even then he’s so readily bored by them he allows screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher to saddle them with clich├ęs and platitudes."

"Equally embarrassing: every second Lenny Kravitz appears on screen. That casting alone identifies Precious for what it is: an extended group-hug, a chance for slumming posh celebrities to show how 'real’ they are. The only problem? There’s no 'real’ here."

Now contrast that with these words from the director:

“One of my earliest memories is of being put in a trash can,” he says in a quiet voice. “I was 5 years old. My dad was playing cards with some of his friends. I put on my mother’s red high heel shoes because they looked pretty to me. He saw me and he got furious. He said I was gay and would never amount to anything, and he threw me in a trash can. And I remember the only way I could deal with it was to escape to a fantasy world. That’s what gave me the idea for the fantasy scenes in the movie, which were not in the book.”

I think this critic gave such a negative review because he doesn't trust the director; the artist. I know a lot of people don't like abstract art - they don't understand where it's coming from and fear they're being manipulated. Many people distrust religion for the same reason - I'm being manipulated. They turn off the news - 'they're trying to scare me.' They're getting angry at their friends: 'You're condescending to me.' They write blogs about politics with vitriolic anger at the other political side. What if we were to open our hearts and trust? I think many fear we would be moved to compassion, and that would put us in a weak position.

I think that most people's lack of trust - be it in the director of this movie, or in friends, teachers, family, or in music, abstract art, intellectuals, or others - comes from a fear of being open to feeling. Such detachment - in review a movie, responding to beggar's, or tuning out other's quiet pleas for help, lead us to avoid being compassionate in our lives; perhaps doing things a different way.

Halfway through watching this movie, my doorbell rang. I wasn't expecting anyone. It was a woman who has visited me before. Last time she asked for food as she was this time - for her two children. I gave her half a loaf of bread. She came back again a few minutes later - I was sure to ask for more; money perhaps. She'd recieved an open container of soup upstairs and wanted to know if I had a container with a lid. I told her to wait; took the soup, closed the door.

My friend once quoted Jesus to me: (to paraphrase) "Don't throw parties and invite your friends, and feed them. You'll receive back from them in time. Invite in the poor and hungry to your homes, for you'll find your reward in heaven." (I'll work to update this quote properly)

Thinking about this, I returned to invite her inside. We spoke in my foyer as I placed the soup into containers for her. I learned she is expecting a third child, has no husband, and that her oldest child is three. She asked if I had diapers as her child was wetting the bed and that she had resorted to using cellophane. Undoubtedly, she and her children sleep in the same bed.

I put on my coat and we went to the store to buy pampers. I encouraged her to see the church in town who can help, and when kindergarten begins next year, to send her oldest child. I asked her if she went to kindergarten. She told me she couldn't remember. She said she didn't have the conditions to go. She told me she could do odd jobs - beat my rugs and clean. Thinking of this very pregnant woman beating my rugs breaks my heart. It reminds me of when I meet the very old in the States at the cashier register - they forced to work despite being 70, 75. Why don't we care for one another? We parted ways and I returned to finish watching the movie.

I was moved to compassion by this movie. I recently watched 'The Blind Side,' as well and was similarly moved. I wonder how one person can take on every difficulty which one encounters. We can't take in every stray cat. We can't always give to the hungry. I need money for traveling around Europe - I can't give to Haiti. These are always excuses that I use to not do something; to put off being compassionate. Compassion is never as easy as apathy.

I only hope that hearing this, you who's reading this is moved to act compassionately towards another. This probably means continuing what you're doing - loving your children, brothers, friends, coworkers as much as possible. Or maybe it means you have to try harder - to give the next time someone asks for help. Or volunteer. Sometimes the person most in need is ourself, and we're not giving enough to our own self. What matters is that we feel compassion and reassurance. Then we, like the character from this movie can stand tall and encourage those around us to do likewise.


  1. Really want to see Precious. Heard amazing things about it. But a Republican's worst nightmare? ;) I see what you mean, but I think it is every person's worst nightmare, regardless of politics. No wants to see someone suffer. Good piece. Wish it were still in theaters. Want to see it on DVD.

  2. I also enjoyed your story about your neighbor. Glad you were there to help her.