So, there we are, having a nice evening together watching a documentary on Hollywood and the way it has presented the Holocaust. We found it on Netflix, which has a wealth of fascinating documentaries which we are slowly going through, because we are GIANT DORKS.
Anyway, we’re watching and it’s all well and good until they go and spring this on me:
A scene from Sophie’s Choice. Specifically, THE scene from Sophie’s Choice.
YES. THAT SCENE. Come on, even people like me, who have never seen Sophie’s Choice, have an idea about what her choice is. I wish to all things holy I still only had a vague idea.
I didn’t know details. Friends had told me not to watch the movie, and I listened to them. And then they went and sprang it on me anyway and now I feel like I can never get my brain clean again.
Have you ever watched a movie scene like that? Something that makes you wish with your whole heart and soul that you could do a complete Eternal Sunlight Of The Spotless Mind on yourself so you would no longer have that memory adding pain to your existence?
When I was a kid, most of those moments were to do with death and gore:
The dead body from Stand By Me, who shocked me with his open eyes.
A tv movie about Jack The Ripper, which only showed blood-spattered walls and a vomiting policeman, but which played on my imagination with all of the sinister genius of Hitchcock.
A shot of a dead soldier from the Gulf War, burned beyond recognition, who haunted me (especially in dark stairwells, where my imagination always placed him walking up behind me) for years afterwards.
Thankfully, I am getting better about my dead body phobia. I went through the Catacombs in Paris (terrified, but I did it). I only shudder slightly when I open the freezer at work. PH still can’t convince me to attend a Bodies exhibition, but that movie last night did spring a charred body in a crematorium oven and while I screamed, it did not haunt me.
But there is another kind of scene that has always tended to bother me, and that usually has to do with the death or a parent or the death of a parent’s child. You’d think it would be the death of animals, and it’s true that I will cry over Old Yeller far more than I will cry over Jack Dawson, and that the inevitable death of a German Shepherd is often the most bothersome scene in your standard thriller movie. But my real soft spot is children.
There’s something about the parent-child bond which has always triggered my emotions strongly.
I consider the parent-child relationship to be the “romance” of children’s literature, and I will weep over a child’s reunion with his parent in a way that I rarely do in adult romances.
I sobbed when I watched Juno and heard the words “would you like to meet your son?”
I burst into tears reading a For Better of For Worse compendium, when April is drowning and John is reaching for his daughter and thinks “if I do one more thing in life, please let me do this”.
Tears like that – they’re good. They’re healing.
But there are other scenes…
Like the scene from The Pianist, where the woman sobs over a baby she accidentally smothered when hiding from the Nazis. That one tormented me, and came flooding back years later when Owl was a newborn Babby.
Like the part of Schindler’s List (the book, not the movie) where a baby is dashed against a wall.
And just recently, a scene from a documentary on Hiroshima (yes, I know, I should probably stop watching war documentaries) where a woman retells the death of her child, and how she wasn’t brave enough to stay with her as she died. That scene broke both PH and me, and for days afterwards one of us would shout “OH, NO! THAT SCENE IS IN MY HEAD” and the other would come swooping in with a distraction as quickly as possible.
Well. I thought that Hiroshima scene was the ultimate in empathetic suffering. For a bit I felt as though my heart could never be whole again. That kind of scene tortures me in a way that a hundred charred soldiers never could. But thankfully time is kind, and the memory has faded a bit.
And then they went and sprang that AWFUL SCENE FROM SOPHIE’S CHOICE on me.
Guys, I know it sounds stupid, because it’s just a movie and it’s fiction, but I am in a lot of mental anguish right now. I can’t really explain why I find it SO BAD. I can’t blame motherhood, either, because I know it would have hurt me every bit as much if I had seen this years ago.
I keep alternately suffering the unspeakable horror of the moral dilemma, the unendurable guilt of the choice, and the heartbroken and terrified betrayal of the child as she is given to death and carried from the person whom we trust above all others to cherish and protect us – Mother.
To try and keep myself from falling into the mother’s place and then the child’s again and again and again, I read last night until I started falling asleep over my book (which NEVER happens). I spent all night dreaming up reunions between mother and child in which I was both the overjoyed mother and the unforgiving and traumatised daughter. I spent hours of dream time trying to inject a dog with morphine who, in my dream, was the little girl – I needed to numb her pain.
The pain of it is messing up my mind.
In driving between dog training appointments today, I ended up on the wrong road – and have NO MEMORY of how I got there. I WAS on the correct road, but I must have turned right at a stop light and continued up a totally different street COMPLETELY UNAWARE OF WHAT I HAD DONE. I didn’t realize my mistake for a good 2 kilometres, and how the mistake even happened will forever be a mystery. I can see making a wrong turn, but how do you make a completely unnecessary turn and not even know about it?
Then, during the appointment, I was supposed to go out, get something from my car, and then knock and ring the doorbell, to help accustom the dog to people coming and going from the house. I just walked right back in again, with no knock. I had totally forgotten the purpose of my being outside at all.
When I got home and reported all of this, PH took away my right to drive for the day. He’s a little concerned about me.
I’m pretty my reaction to the scene is not normal, otherwise there would be big disclaimers on the scene warning people not to operate heavy machinery after watching.
I mean, it’s a famous scene and it won Streep an Oscar, but when I google it, it is casually mentioned as a powerful and moving scene by people who rate the movie highly and “love” it. It is a powerful scene. Streep deserved her award. But I wish the movie had never been made, because then I wouldn’t be hurting so much right now.
I told you that PH has been trying to convince me to go to the Bodies exhibition in Vegas on our summer vacation, and my attitude has been HELL NO. But if I could wipe my mind clean of that scene… if Meryl Streep’s words and if that little girl’s scream of hurt and fear could be wiped from my brain… I would attend that exhibition joyfully.
What movie scene has affected you the most? What’s your achilles heel?