Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Kids are All Right

In an effort to escape the heat and humidity last night, another Jesuit and I decided to go to the movies. We decided to drive over to Royal Oak and see the 8:00 showing of the newly-released The Kids are All Right. Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo, it is a well-crafted story about a lesbian couple - Nic and Jules, played by Bening and Moore - each of whom used sperm from the same donor in order to have children.

The daughter, Joni, has just turned 18 at the start of the movie. Her brother, Laser, importunes her to "make the call" to the sperm bank their moms had use; he, we realize, is the one initially most keen on meeting his biological father. Joni eventually acquiesces and contact is made with Paul, played by Ruffalo, who owns a co-op farm and a restaurant.

Understandably, Nic and Jules are not entirely enthusiastic about their kids making contact with "the sperm donor." Nevertheless, they agree to meet him and invite him over for dinner. What follows this initial ingress is a finely wrought narrative about appearance and truth, the marathon of committed love, betrayal and forgiveness. It is not an easy story, nor does it pander to popular opinion: Nic and Jules are middle-aged lesbians, not the buxom nymphomaniac beauties that so enthrall the stereotypical male imagination. The family's life, like all family life, is multi-layered: there is tension, misunderstanding, anxiety, and great pain beneath what might, outwardly, appear to be a "perfect family." It is the introduction of Paul who changes the family tremendously, bringing into the light many of the issues that had long receded into the darkness. The question the viewer wrestles with toward the end of the movie is: will the lives of each character be etched permanently with resentment or will they find the strength and grace for love and reconciliation?

I will confess: I loved this movie. I think it is smart, funny, and deeply moving. Benning, Moore, and Ruffalo turn in exquisite performances, capturing well the tensions and confusions of flawed yet  loving individuals. Theologically, it is a marvelous meditation on sin: the lies we tell each other and ourselves that lead us away from the light and from love, that estrange us from the One who gives us strength and purpose. This is the brilliance of the movie: none is without sin, and all are in need of reconciliation. It is this bifold awareness that is offers both the threat and the promise of salvation.

What I appreciate most about this movie is its exploration of the shape and contour of love as it confronts a complex and deeply ambiguous world. If society is to be believed, truly committed love is impossible. The fairy-tale image of love, perhaps, is. Love is difficult; it is a "marathon" and it's easy to lose sight of the one love as you slog through the muck and mire of life. Love is hard and the reality is that often the one you love the most is the one you hurt the most. Thus the core of the move: love seeks forgiveness. Rather than assigning blame, it owns up to its failures and proclaims a heartfelt "I'm Sorry...please forgive me." Love is patient, for having apologized and asked forgiveness it must dwell in the ensuing silence, awaiting the response of the Beloved who will either accept or reject the apology.  Love reconciles the past, it doesn't erase it; it heals wounds, but does not efface scars. It is these scars that bear witness to our journeys and, many years from now, will be the touchstones we share with one another as we tell the story of our Beloved, the One who gave us life and love and for whom we have lived our lives.

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