In Toohey Forest/My life without me
You have to walk a long way before you can convince yourself you can no longer hear the sounds of the road. It doesn’t feel as though you’re in the bush when you’re walking on asphalt but once you turn off on to one of the earth tracks, you can pretend you’re Burke, striking out into the great nothing.
The night before we watched My life without me. It is incredibly moving. From the understated bravery that Ann faces her end with to the tenderness of Lee’s approach to loving her, it was a work of exquisite acting and careful direction. Hollywood death movies are among its most abysmal, aiming at the lowest of common denominators, drowing in schmaltz. It’s always, you’re going to die, oh my gahd, bring on the strings, and you are hard put not to spend the rest of the movie laughing at how much it hurts them.
Not here. Ann gulps, says “I thought I might be pregnant”, which is what you or I might say, and tries to understand her small, ordinary life without her in it. She is very young and you would imagine the film would strive for tragedy. But, incredibly, it refuses, and is instead a comedy of manners, a portrait of the way we are.
When Hollywood wants to affirm life, it tells us how great our lives are, how big they can be, if we will just reach for the stars. Coixet tells us how small they are, and how much they have in them even so. Ann’s love of her children was heartbursting. I defy anyone who has children to keep a dry eye. She is robbed of their lives – much, much more painful than losing her own – but she spares them as best she can, dedicating her death, just as she has her life, to them. In one glorious scene, Ann, lying in her bed, can see through a bead curtain, how her children and husband will live. They are laughing, joyous, ordinary people having a fun night. Without her.
What struck me about Coixet’s vision was that she very carefully but unobtrusively establishes that it is the beginning of winter when Ann is told that she will die within two months. She will never have another summer. She could mourn a wasted life – those of us who believe that lives are for achievement and not just for living – would feel sorry for her. She has sacrificed everything for her children and her husband and now it is for nothing.
But it is not. She makes her winter beautiful and dies without regrets, and those she has left behind live her life without her.
We stop for a moment to drink water. The day is cool and still. I hear a bird high in the treetops but I can’t see it. J points. It was a lizard but I can’t see it. Look, she says, it’s on a branch just there. But I can’t see it.
Maybe it has gone, she says.
Soon we are back to the asphalt. I am talking about Mrs Zen. I should never talk about anything to people from back home. I should never talk. I sound unhappy but I am not. It is something else and it sounds like the grinding of gears.
Sometimes I look at the room I am in, and I want someone else to pick up the things that are scattered around it. Sometimes I want to take everything in it to the tip.
Sometimes I think that if I only had a box big enough to throw everything in, I would be happy.