Friday, March 11, 2016

some people won't let you forget 'em

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her has me thinking about versions of self. More accurately, how the self we project and the self that others actually experience are probably never the same thing. Not exactly, and sometimes barely at all. Like the difference for the class clown between the class laughing at you or with you. You hope for the latter, but it's usually the former.

It's like that encoding/decoding thing again--you choose how to present yourself and other people get it or they don't. The interesting moments are not when they get you wrong in a negative way--that laughing at you bit--but when they get you wrong in a positive way. Like someone likes you and you don't get why. I feel that sometimes... mostly when I'm not feeling that great about myself so maybe it's an entirely different issue. My self-esteem issues and/or depression rearing its head.

(Ten minutes before Stu shows up.)

I understand Eleanor a little too well I think. That need to get away from everything, even the good, because the good and the bad are all wrapped up in each other. When my wife and I separated the first time (and the second, for that matter) I missed my kids. But, coming back to the apartment we all shared hurt sometimes, even though I wanted nothing more than to be here, nothing more than to be with them. The place felt like something slightly foreign, a place I no longer belonged. I understand Eleanor's (and then Conor's) urge to stay out of their old apartment. Old spaces link to old feelings link to old selves and old pains.

But sometimes, old pains are worth it.

Or something like that.

I don't know.

I just know that sometimes who you are can be so wrapped up in the people and the places around you that if something changes, if something is lost, who you are can feel just as lost. I mean, I can still feel that moment outside my care on Green Street in Pasadena when I realized I hadn't arranged a place to stay that night. And, I no longer had my home to go back to. And, poetically (or masochistically) I had just watched the Iranian film A Separation, and there I am.

(More than twenty minutes before Conor shows up. It is remarkable how little Her connects to the other side of the story. At least in its first act. I referred to Eleanor as something liked a ghost in Him. Her absence is palpable because she's there in the beginning and Conor wants her back. Here, Conor's absence feels merely tangential. We know nothing about Conor and Eleanor. We just know about Eleanor.)

Gergen (2009), who Lillian mistakenly calls Bergen in the film, writes about the relational self. The self created in relation to others. (Or in relation to the Other, probably, as well. I haven't read much of Gergen; it was just bugging me that I couldn't find Bergen.) He says, "[W]e have over 2000 terms in the English language that refer to ("make real") individual mental states; we have very few that refer to relationships." On the one hand, this distinction--the individualist versus the relational--seems almost arbitrary. On the other, it seems painfully obvious for, I'd guess, anyone who had ever been human (and probably some non-humans as well). Gergen continues:

Even the concept of the relationship itself, as we inherit it, presumes that relationships are built up from the more basic units of single individuals. It's as if we have become enormously sophisticated in characterizing individual pawns, rooks, and bishops, but have little way of talking about the game of chess. (p. 88)

I like the language there, though my experience with Gergen is limited to a couple pages of his book, so I cannot be entirely sure I know where he intends to take this discussion. I like the way I read it.

(Forty minutes in, Eleanor has the flashback to the end of the rom-com sequence that opening the other two versions of the film. Her memory starts in the park with the fireflies and then goes into a a conversation that sets up the roadtrips she and Conor take in the past and in the present. As little as Conor is present, when he's there, he seems like a positive force in Eleanor's life. His absence is not as powerful but it is more of a mystery.)

The chess metaphor intrigues me. The idea that some people around us are just unimportant pawns, filling up space, that some are more important rooks and bishops... And, I suppose we are the king or the queen, or if we're feeling a little neglected or forgotten or lost, maybe we see ourselves as the knight or one of those bishops, stuck on certain paths, playing our part(s) even when we don't want to. Because that's who we are, who we see ourselves as, who we know others see us as. Or it's just who we think we're supposed to be because society or whatever tells us what it means to be a man or a woman, a daughter or a son, a husband or a wife.

(And, I do not mean to limit this to binary norms, the societally-accepted male/female bullshit. But, as much as I support branching out from the limitations of all that, those are the terms through which I have experienced most of my life. I grew up going to church and private school, had plenty of conservative values thrown at me for years. Actually, my impulse to frames things above as "a man or a woman" kind of proves my point; we're stuck with the labels and the roles that society gives us. And, it's not like we need to even branch out from them to get along. Not most of us anyway. But, for those who need more, those who experience more, who are more, I salute you and your efforts. Get the fuck out there and be who you want to be, need to be.

As long as you're not hurting anyone.)

I love that the flashbacks to happier times are in Her. Eleanor is stuck on that past, on the expectations and limitations, and whatever the positive version of those two things is. Conor in Him mostly looks forward. He's not particularly happy, but he avoids the past. Actively avoids it. Except for Eleanor. He moves forward even though his future doesn't seem very bright. Eleanor, though, she's more clearly moving forward with going to school and all, but she's stuck on the past. Stuck with her pain. She tells her father to stop reminding her that something's wrong, but the thing is she knows it every moment. That's the version of Eleanor she is.

She's different from the version of Eleanor we see in Him. At least in the shared scenes--the curb scene after Conor is hit by the car and the present-day roadtrip, in particular. In Her, those scenes are... harder, more matter-of-fact. On the curb, Conor feels a little more lost, a little more in pain. Eleanor seems distant, not as bemused by the idea of Conor wanting to say something profound that will make everything be better. In the car on the roadtrip later, in Him Eleanor seems flirtatious, more eager for and open to something happening between she and Conor. In Her, she's more aloof. Like she's humoring Conor rather than making an effort, deliberate or otherwise, to actually reconnect with him. Hell, in Him we get that drive scene, and she's got a Big Gulp as she did in the flashback. She has licorice as she did in the flashback. It's like she's trying to recreate the past. But that's just Conor's imagination. It's how he sees Eleanor. In Her, there's no rekindling of their past relationship going on. This is Eleanor's version of reality. It's what she sees. Conor wears a dark shirt instead of the light one he has on in Him.


But, it gets really interesting when you notice that it is in Her that Eleanor climbs over onto Conor and they start kissing in his seat. In Him, he moves on top of her in her seat. In Him, he confesses that he slept with someone else. In Her, she guesses this fact when he tells her to wait. And, oddly, he says, "You told me to." But, she only told him to sleep with someone else in Him. That scene isn't in this movie. The two versions of reality exist side-by-side, with their differences standing out here and there but ultimately... Ultimately, both versions come around to the same end--Eleanor following Conor in the park after she's been gone (presumably) for a year.

Along the way, though, one Conor is not the other Conor. One Eleanor is not the other Eleanor. Not completely. They are defined as the other sees them. As are we all.

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