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On wednesday night I watched
The Royal Tenenbaums with new eyes.

The last time I saw it was in the theater 11 years ago. And I hated it. I couldn’t even decide or understand why. Wes Anderson films make me feel deeply. I’ve never read any commentary by him about what his intentions are, but introspection and moodiness are the effect on me.

Then a month ago I watched Fantastic Mr. Fox again. The first time I saw it I disliked it and fell asleep before the end. But this time it hit me with so much emotion and magic I cried at the end. I loved it. And I knew.

I was ready to re-watch the Royal Tenenbaums.

I am the type of person who connects to whatever I am seeing or reading. I don’t know if I would call it empathetically as much as metaphorically. Sometimes in large emotional ways and sometimes in little superficial things; I’ll wear a red coat after Cathy in Wuthering Heights does, or weed after reading about Ben Weatherstaff the gardener, or need to see cherry trees after watching Anne. I want to FEEL what they are feeling, and in order to tie myself to them I try to create their surroundings.

But this happens subconsciously as well, I think. Even when I don’t want it to happen. (And much to my detriment!) For example, Beau and I watched the first few episodes of Downton Abbey a couple months ago. All my friends adore it. But I had an extremely strong aversion to it after a while. I could not figure out why! By all accounts it ought to be something I love. I chalked it up to not needing another drama in my life and left it at that.

Then I figured it out. The beginning of Downton focuses on a man who has a limp. He can’t find a job anywhere because of his cripple. In one episode he uses a metal contraption that excruciatingly digs pins into his leg trying to stretch it out.

Of course! The last two years have been filled with nightmares of Oliver never being normal, his foot going back to the way it was, him not being able to function athletically, of getting arthritis young, of botched surgery…I’ve had to watch his pain again and again through wires sticking through his flesh, casts that immobilize him, fevers from infection, and the heart ache of being told his previous lengthy treatment failed and had to be redone. I still get shaky and sick to my stomach when I put his brace on. I can’t help but worry about whether or not it’s doing the right thing and not, in fact, molding him wrong.

I did not need to watch a character go through this, too. My “someone suffering from their leg impairment” emotional quota was filled. But it was all in my subconscious. My Consciousness said, “You don’t like this. Don’t watch it. Flee!!”

So back to the Royal Tenenbaums. I realize now that when I first watched it, it had much the same effect on me as Downton Abbey. My conscious said, “Yuck. I hate this movie.” This was because at the time the subconscious part of my brain for “family” had been crying so hard it was probably mildewed. The movie came out my senior year in high school. At the time I was realizing very painfully how broken my family had been the past eight years. That year my dad very beautifully and publicly confessed to having an affair. First to my mother on Easter, and then to my sisters and I, and then to our entire church. He began the path to restoration, while I began the long introspective look at what the last years had been like. What I had thought were normal teenage years were absolutely not. So much of the dysfunction between my parents, and my father and I, suddenly made sense. Without going into detail, I’ll just say I could finally see clearly where little remarks and comments that had been made had come from, and why I had allowed myself to become so emotionally checked out. A great deal of my formative years involved learning to ignore hints, deny truth, and pretend to be happy. I had a bitter, cynical view of family and of real romance. It was very difficult for me to figure it all out and come out the other side cheerfully forgiving and laffy taffy. I shoved all that puke inside me and packed my bags for college.

Enter Beau, the most forgiving and gracious person I have ever met. Enter film and theater classes that taught color theory in set design and cinematography. Enter restoration to my parent’s relationship and to our family. Enter other kinds of heartache and learning new ways to cope to them. Enter true friendships that have taught me beauty in everything through written description and laughter. Enter children, who’ve taught me just how imperfect a parent I am and the need for grace.

Watching the Royal Tenenbaums before the filter of time, I was stuck with Margot at the beginning, being told her acting wasn’t very believable by her father. I couldn’t get over the neglect, favoritism, and infidelity in the movie . I could not take lightly a man who just wanted to make right all the ways he’d created dissension in his family. I couldn’t see how any of it was funny or beautiful.

I really love that I have been able to seemingly watch this movie over ten years. I grew with the characters. This time when I watched it I saw it as the adult children. When a tender moment arose after so much bitter refusal to forgive I felt it. And I could see the humor it took to get there. I’ve lived it.

When I attacked my parents’ wall paper with a knife when I was 18 (the wall paper chosen by the family friend who my dad had an affair with)…it was funny. When I see the watercolor painting of flowers and a moon in the same place (that I gave to my parents who are very much still together and in love) it is beautiful.

When I first watched this movie I was just discovering that all human beings, even the best ones, are deeply flawed. Watching it now I see that those flaws create a color scheme around us, a play with more than one act, and a finale that can end in forgiveness and change.

And I even grew up in a house with a turret. (Beau says I have Turrets syndrome because I love them so much. Not to be confused with Tourette’s!) I need a pink flag with a C on it for somewhere in my house!

ALSO: One of the things I loved the most was the very clearly and delicately chosen color scheme. They are the same colors I have come to love most and am drawn to for my house and artwork. Perhaps they are the colors of making light and whimsy out of dark humor. You can’t help looking at them and feeling happy!

Here is a collage I made of them last year:

6 thoughts on “

  1. Bridget! THIS POST. Such a privilege to read your honest, insightful, moving, lovely words. My favorite line (it was hard to pick one): “This was because at the time the subconscious part of my brain for “family” had been crying so hard it was probably mildewed.”

    I can’t wait to see you tonight.

  2. This is such a beautifully articulated post, Bridget. The transparency you have here with your family shows how much restoration and healing you (and they) have experienced. It’s funny because it took me a long time to really see the depth of Anderson’s movies. I always liked them, but in an artsy, highly-stylized hipster kind of way. Like you, the older I get the more I see the tenderness of how he treats peoples’ broken places. It’s like Bruce Cockburn and Annie Lamott are fond of saying. Everything is full of cracks, but I guess that’s how the light gets in.

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