Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Feminism, Ibsen, the 1970s, and Good Child Actors in Film.

What??  Do I really intend to write about all those in the same post? The answer? A hesitant yes. Hesitant because really what I am about to do is ramble, connecting way too many topics. I can't help myself though. They've all been on my mind, and they connect in a long, messy string. So be forewarned.

First stop on the Stream of Margaux's Consciousness Tour:

Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979) Directed and written by Robert Benton, based upon a novel by Avery Corman, this is one of those quintessential '1970s Women's Liberation entering the marriage bed, and leading to a divorce' movies. Of course to explain it like this severely oversimplifies both the things that happened during the time, as well as the characters' motives and the plot of the film. I saw this film a week or two ago, when I just wanted to watch something Good and didn't feel hellbent on a movie that would uplift me, as I usually do (hi, high-class romantic comedy collection and cheesy old movie collection).

The main reason I wanted to see it was because I knew Meryl Streep won her first Oscar for the role, but even though she gives a brilliant performance, my favorite thing about this film was the relationship between the character Dustin Hoffman plays as Ted Kramer, and his son, Billy, played by Justin Henry. When Ted, a big New York businessman comes home yapping about work one night, his wife, Joanna suddenly tells him she is leaving. We see her tuck her son into bed. And she gets in the elevator...and goes. In the morning, Ted tries to act as though everything is fine, and tries to make breakfast for his son, when he is clearly distraught. For a long time, we see Ted struggle with his new responsibility, his anger at his wife, and we observe how he changes into a better father and becomes closer to his son, even to the point that he leaves work when his son is ill, skipping an important meeting, and comes to lose his big job. The father and son fight and struggle, but eventually bond. There is a scene after a big fight when Ted explains why Joanna has left and they apologize to each other, and he is so honest with the little boy. I found it so realistic and so moving. The acting in the film is truly lovely and the relationships are so well-formed and believable.

In terms of feminism, the film is interesting to me because I felt it echoed Ibsen's A Doll's House.  In the play, the heroine, Nora Helmer leaves her husband when she realizes he looks upon her more as a doll to present to the world than as a human being, and loves her as a possession rather than a person.  She believes that she can be of no use to her children, as she has been treated like a child her entire life, and feels she must find her own identity.  Nora slams the door, leaving her husband and children.  Nora and Joanna of Kramer vs. Kramer are nearly the exact same character in terms of their feelings about their married lives, and Ted Kramer  and Torvald Helmer are very much the same in that they supremely value their careers and good names.  The funny thing is that A Doll's House was published in 1879, exactly one century before Kramer vs. Kramer.  In one hundred years, the story is still as relevant, but the film takes off where the Nora-heroine shuts the door, and further examines child custody battles, and the importance of fairness toward the child.

Another film that has nothing to do with Ibsen, feminism, or the 1970s, but does have to do with good child actors: Ma Vie en Rose (1997), a Belgian film directed by Alain Berliner, written by Alain Berliner and Chris Vander Strappen, about a little boy named Ludovic (played by Georges du Fresne), who believes that he was supposed to be born a girl.  What I loved about this film was that it brought things to the child's height.  The audiences sees things from Ludo's eyes, sympathizes with him and remembers what childhood was like.  So many people grow up and seem to forget that children are human beings, just as capable of intelligent thought, just as capable of complex emotions.  Adults are no more perfect or cartoon-like than children, and vice versa.  

Childhood can be very lonely, without being extremely different from the rest of the kids.  Throw in feeling adamantly that you were born the wrong sex, and throw in being a boy who likes to wear dresses and play with dolls, and the loneliness  hugely increases.  Ludo's mother and father become angrier and angrier throughout the film, scolding their seven year old son over his bad behavior, saying how hard he makes life for them.  The neighbors are offended when Ludo dresses as a girl and has a crush on a boy, eventually kicking him out of the local private school, and he is beat up by the members of his soccer team.  To me, the point of this film, is that adults, being older and supposedly wiser, should know better than to treat children (or anyone for that matter) with prejudice and hate, but should try to understand, and realize that humans are not meant to fit some sort of mold from the conservatism of the 1950s. 

This concludes the Margaux's Random Thoughts Party. Free cake in the lobby.*

*Both lobby and cake exist in the imagination, so it can be whatever sort of cake you like.


Kelsy said...

I've always wanted to get around to Kramer vs. Kramer, and this gives me a little kick to do it. Also, je t'aime.

Margaux said...

Je t'aime aussi!

Irene said...

Ah, I love your brain. Really. I always tell you how pretty I think you are, but I forget how wise you are sometimes...
Lovely post.