I’m not fine, and that’s a totally reasonable response

Diary Entry, number three

Have you ever openly sobbed in a movie theater?
I hadn’t until yesterday.

My life is full and unpredictable. It all starts well before the sun rises each day, and ends long after the sun goes down. There’s a lot of bad in it all, but then there’s just so much that’s so damn beautiful, too. I know this because I pay attention.

For weeks now I’ve been wanting to see Mike Mills’ newest movie “C’mon C’mon.” I saw the trailer and immediately knew I had to figure out a way to see it in a theater. To sit in a big dark room with strangers experiencing a movie clearly meant to be beautiful both in its storytelling and its cinematography.

After a bargain with Sarah, I made it to the theater last night to watch it. It was at one of our local independent theaters in town, a non-profit. I showed up a bit early to make sure I found decent parking and could get a drink beforehand.

“You bought the very last ticket.”
“Oh wow! I hadn’t assumed it would have been that popular.”
“That’s because you’re seeing it in our micro theater. It’s a much smaller room than our main theater. But you got the last ticket! Congratulations!”

There ended up being a total of something like 15 people in the theater, including me. It was a small, intimate theater which ended up lending itself well to the film itself. Shot entirely in black and white, it was stunningly beautiful. Intimate. The lack of color caused us to focus on the emotion of the film itself, the characters, the story, the beauty of the settings where the movie took place – from the beaches of LA and the cityscapes of NYC, to the huge live oak trees of southern Louisiana.

It wasn’t just visually beautiful. The story, sheesh, it hit all these raw nerves in myself. And I let it. So much of it deals with the challenges of parenting, of family life, of how to handle mental illness. I’d say those topics are fairly relevant to me and my life. Family dynamics. Impossible situations with seemingly no right answers.

We’re all just trying our best. That doesn’t mean that life goes the way we want it to or that we have any idea of what we are really doing. Or that we have the energy to be our best selves all the time.

I feel it all the time, it’s good, it’s validating to see and hear it on a screen.

The story is of Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix), a radio journalist, embarking on a cross-country trip with his energetic nine-year-old nephew while his sister helps get care for her husband who has bipolar disorder and needs hospitalization. The relationship between Johnny and his nephew is the focus and their journey together, in the emotional highs and lows of both adulthood and childhood are shown to us on screen.

Joaquin Phoenix’s performance was perfect. His portrayal as Johnny, a sincere adult and uncle trying to do what’s right and good was deeply impactful. Johnny’s treatment of his nephew in the film, of children in general, was tender and affirming and gave the kids the dignity they deserve.

The sort of man that Phoenix embodied in the film modeled so much of the humility that I think men need to have. Nothing humbles a man more than children, at least in my experience.

I want you to go watch this film, or watch it when it is available to buy or rent. So I won’t provide any significant spoilers, but there are so many touching scenes in this movie.

There’s a scene where Johnny, the uncle, is reflecting with himself about why he responded the way he did to a question that his nephew asked him.

“I made a silly joke out of it. Why did I do that?”

I think there’s an element for me personally, that this is a man who is experiencing grief, both the loss of his mother and of a romantic relationship with someone he still cares about. This is a man experiencing grief but still giving the world the best he has. He’s tired, but has his eyes wide open. He literally records the world around him. Interviews people. Learns of others’ perspectives. I can relate so much to that. I feel grief and loss everyday. I experience little deaths myself everyday for the hopes and dreams I have. But I still push forward trying to experience everything fully, recording things through photography to help myself remember this life, and to pass them on to my children someday. I think it’s important. I appreciate how this movie shows that, too.

The nephew is nine in this movie. He is spunky and strange. He’s energetic. He wanders off or hides in dangerous ways. He talks back to Johnny in sophisticated ways. He argues with a sense of emotional IQ that doesn’t seem fitting for a child his age.

There was so much of both Micah and Ezra that I saw in this child’s life, attitude, and energy. I think that’s most of what stirred so much up in me while I watched it. I’m constantly wondering what is normal for a nine year old to act like. What is normal for a nine or seven year old to say when trying to argue or talk back to me. How does a kid their age express their emotions appropriately, especially when they have been given space and permission to express themselves fully in the right ways.

The husband with bipolar was another huge box of emotions that was opened up in me. They don’t show a ton of scenes with him in it, or talk about the experience of what it’s really like for him, but it was just enough to really stir up my heart thinking about my brother.

It caused me to think about the sorts of struggles my brother would have had as a man in his 30s and 40s. Would he have learned to stay on his medication? Would he have learned to get the sleep he was supposed to? Those were two of the details they did bring up in this film, and I have a hard time thinking of what my brother would have been like in his 30s or 40s or even older. What would my role have been in his life at that point? He rarely would admit any issues with me, and he didn’t seem to understand how important sleep and his meds were to his mental health.

I hate it.

I cried a lot in this film. Like, openly weeping in the theater crying. I didn’t yelp loudly, but I almost did during a scene towards the end of the movie.

I was thankful that there was a mask requirement in the theater, because as I walked out, eyes puffy from crying, I was able to hide most of my face. I walked into the bathroom to gather myself a bit and realized that the last time I looked at myself in a mirror while crying was right after my brother died.

In the bathroom minutes after my brother died, in the OR scrubs.

I went to a bar next door to just soak in the feelings and decompress a bit. I was mostly struck by the realization that as I walked out of that movie I was thinking that even though my life feels extremely hard sometimes, the greatest privilege I have is being a dad. This movie showed the complexities of life with one child in the timespan of just over a week or so. I have three kids, all with their own complex worlds and perspectives, full of all sorts of emotions. With life pulling at them from every side as well. Lives lived in the time of a global pandemic.

A line that stood out to me from the film, “You’ll see a lot of bad, but it’s beautiful.”
It’s true. But what’s up with that? Why is that true?

Here a few photos from last night:

Go see the movie. Feel the feels.
Be astonished.
Talk about it.

And as the nephew says towards the end of the film, quoting his dad, “Be funny. Comma. When you can. Period.”

Published by Andrew

a ragamuffin dad planting some sequoias

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