Four harrowing tales — but worth it

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

 

Whew.

I recently saw a feature film — made by British director Andrew Haigh — called “Lean on Pete”, which is the name of the horse who’s central to the story. It was shot in Portland, Oregon and tells the story of Charley, a young man (played by Charlie Plummer) who’s initially stuck with a deadbeat father, absent mother and MIA aunt.

Here’s the Guardian’s review of it.

It’s a powerful and moving story of how a young man somehow manages to walk, drive and run away from a solo life of misery back to a place of safety and comfort.

I won’t give away all the details, but it’s a searing portrait of what it means to be young, broke, desperate and unconnected to anyone who cares for you. It’s also beautifully filmed and Plummer is fantastic.

There are very few films made today about what it’s like to be poor and alone in the United States — the last one I saw (and I admit, I didn’t enjoy it) was The Florida Project, starring Willem Dafoe as the manager of a Florida motel housing a number of women-led families of very young children.

I found it impossible to like or sympathize with its main female character, while Charlie — maybe being a teenager? maybe being someone doing his best? — was someone I could stick with, even as his trajectory becomes so grim.

LOP cost $8 million to make — and has so far only earned back $222,816 — a terrible return.

I’m not surprised. It’s not a funny, cute, perky escape and box-office catnip.

But it’s a great film and I urge you to see it.

I also just saw First Reformed, which is winning rave reviews for its writer/director Paul Schrader and its lead actor, Ethan Hawke, playing a disillusioned, divorced upstate New York Episcopal (i.e. Anglican) minister.

Like LOP, it’s not an easy film, but also deeply moving and raises essential questions of what we’re doing to the environment.

I recently read Born A Crime, the memoir by South African mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah. Not an easy read and you come away awed by what he survived with grace.

Last summer, traveling alone through Europe with multiple 12-hour train journeys, I dove into another harrowing story, A Little Life, written (!) in 18 months on top of the author’s full-time job at The New York Times.

It won five awards, including being short-listed for the 2015 Man Booker prize.

It, too, is an emotionally tough slog and it’s a doorstop of 814 pages.

The central character is Jude, and his friendships with a small circle of equally educated and accomplished New Yorkers. Jude was abused and injured as a child, and this trauma plays out throughout his life and the novel. (If you’re up on your saints, you know that Jude is the patron saint of desperate and lost causes.)

While it’s a story with much pain, it’s also one with deep and abiding love and sustaining friendships — the kind that those whose families are absent or useless must find if they are to survive this world, let alone thrive in it.

As someone who has turned many times to strangers and friends to replace absent family, these narratives hit a chord in me.

I don’t believe that great art has to make us happy or smile or feel better.

If it touches the deepest part of our heart, it’s done its job.

 

10 thoughts on “Four harrowing tales — but worth it

  1. You changed the look of your site. I like it. I read A Little Life three years ago. It tops the list of best books I’ve ever read. It’s an unforgettable read. I kept all my emotions in check while I read, but that last chapter did me in. It was a perfect ending.

    1. Thanks! I did change it a while ago…

      ALL is an amazing book. Even more so, to me as a fellow writer, that she wrote it in (!??) 18 months in addition to her FT job at the New York Times. She is now the editor of the NYT’s T magazine.

  2. Robert Lerose

    Caitlin,

    I agree with your comment that great art does not have to make us happy or feel better. Those emotions are certainly necessary and needed in the right context, but I’ve found that art which aspires to truthfulness and honesty–even when those truths make us uncomfortable — is essential for understanding the human condition.
    Robert

    1. Thanks…I found all of these works powerful and moving. Tiring to experience and process, but important issues.

      I forgot to include the Patrick Melrose novels — being shown now on Showtime with Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead. The PM novels (5 of them) are searing and unforgettable, thinly disguised autobiography.

  3. i love your suggestions, and it doesn’t bother me if there is not a happy ending involved, or the story feels uncomfortable. that doesn’t determine how much i will like something i see or read, what i value is good writing.

  4. Pingback: Four harrowing tales — but worth it – Devablog

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