Monday, February 29, 2016

A Movie Recommendation: "The Lady in the Van"

Since I've talked movies here earlier today, it occurs to me to recommend another film Steve and I saw this past weekend — Nicholas Hytner's "The Lady in the Van," which was written by Alan Bennett and based on his play of the same name, which in turns was based on material in Bennett's book of memoirs, Untold Stories (NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005). I blogged about Untold Stories here several years ago (and here and here), and, when I did so, included a posting about "The Lady in the Van."

(Spoiler alert, if you haven't seen the movie or read the memoir and play on which it's based): If you do see this film, as I hope you will, you'll encounter a deeply moving little parable in which you'll slowly discovers the traumatic secret(s) that lie at the heart of Miss Mary Shepherd's / Margaret Fairchild's shattered sensibility, while you also equally slowly watch Alan Bennett struggle to deal with making any public statement at all about his being gay. The two plots intertwine in a way that tugs at the heartstrings when, shortly before she dies, Miss Shepherd tells Bennett that it was her confessor who, when she was a nun, instructed her religious superiors not to allow her to play the piano and not to allow her to listen to music, though she had been a distinguished concert pianist before becoming a nun.

She had made the mistake of telling her confessor that she found it easier to play music than to pray. And so her spirit had to be broken, in that dreadful period of pre-Vatican II, post-Tridentine Catholicism in which religious life — especially for vowed women — was so often about breaking the will, the spirit, bludgeoning one into submission. In the name of a God who presumably delights in such bludgeoning of "his" creatures . . . . 

The end result for Miss Shepherd: her mind broke, too, and she became a street person, a dirty, unwashed person living as a vagrant in a van, whom Alan Bennett — the metaphorically dirty, unwashed homosexual — alone of all his neighbors invited to park the van in which she lived within his garden, though she was (and he fully knew this) a royal pain in the derrière. As she tells him shortly before her death how the nuns broke her spirit and then her mind, Miss Shepherd tells Bennett that music was, you see, in her bones, it ran through her veins, and she had never understood why God would not want what was in her bones and ran through her veins and lifted her heart to be shattered inside her.

The same lesson the Christian churches, including her Catholic church, have given gay people like Alan Bennett for ever so long . . . . The same male God ravenously determined that people's spirits be broken in submission to "him" . . . . The same God who, we're informed, wants us to break, to deny, to repudiate the inclination to love that runs in our gay bones and through our gay veins . . . .

Because this somehow delights that bloodthirsty God ravenous for people's "obedience" . . . . 

Have I said that I'm recommending this movie? I am. But, then, Alan Bennett could write about paint drying on the wall, and I'd be enchanted. And Maggie Smith could play a cardboard cutout, and I'd be ecstatic. And the luxuriantly sinful Lent-breaking reclining leather chairs our local movie theater has just installed don't hurt a bit, either.

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