If only it were just the breasts

For our family, the Academy Awards are the Super Bowl, only with better food. We try to create food combinations inspired by the five nominated movies. This year we had trouble moving beyond beans and martinis, but that is the least of my worries.

My fifteen-year-old son is angry with me and has been on a particular point for months. He typically sees most of the leading movies. We screen them, take him, and discuss everything, like the enlightened, involved parents we imagine we want to be. Sometimes we say no, sometimes yes, sometimes we are wrong. We wrestled with “Titanic” when it came out, realizing too late that our shallow concerns about Kate Winslet’s breasts were completely eclipsed by the glassy-eyed, bobbing victims in the end. The difference between what we anticipated would be his tittering reaction and his insightful horror taught us to respect him on a much deeper level.

But I haven’t let him see “Brokeback Mountain.” He has seen the other movies and even a few he feels were robbed of major nominations (don’t get him started about “The Squid and the Whale”). He knows it has nothing to do with the gay content. He has lived too long with the two of us and the people we have chosen to call family to suspect any hang-ups there. But my explained reasons seem lame even to me.

“The people in this movie, Alex, they are so unhappy, so profoundly stuck in themselves and their world; the themes and emotions feel too adult.” I look at him roll his eyes incredulously. His life is stressful right now. He is trying to figure out how to balance track and academics, trying to tell his girlfriend he “just wants to be friends,” trying to flirt seductively with the girl he really likes on the newspaper. He dances around in his boxers and looks in the mirror with the unfaltering, unselfconscious gaze of someone who knows he is gifted and loved unconditionally. I suppose, in spite of all his sophistication, that he knows he will find a true sweetheart and that, frame by frame, his life will unfold with a warm cinematic glow. What does he know of Ennis and Jack and Alma? What should he know of them?

I am aware that like most parenting dilemmas this is not about him at all. My protection is a sham for what I know he will ask me, if not now, later. “What about you, Mom?” And he will expect our usual banter. “Did you find the love of your life and risk everything to stay and grow with this person? Do you have a mountain somewhere where you left part of yourself, young and frozen? Do you know peace and change and connection? Do you know pain and loss and aching empty desire? Do these things really happen, Mom, do you get these people?” And I will someday have to whisper, “Yes.”

But for today, we talk about Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performance and John Stewart’s politics. We celebrate make-believe and fantastic gowns. I will postpone as long as I can Alex’s inevitable realization that what makes a great film is not so much points on a ballot, but what it makes us feel in the moment, in the dark, in our reflected secrets.

2 responses to “If only it were just the breasts”

  1. Hello, Chicago! So glad to see you here.

    RE: Alex & the Marlboro Men — maybe I should shut up now, realizing that I’m the fool responsible for taking him to his first R-rated movie when he was what, 10? (He loved murder mysteries so much, and Gosford Park seemed right up his alley. I forgot about the naughty bits!) But my inclination would be to let the boy see the film, your eloquent reasons notwithstanding. My guess is that his responses will be less conflicted than yours, and that he’ll process the film against his own life rather than yours. Your psyche and experience is probably tidier in his mind than it is in yours. And if bigger conversations arise — wouldn’t it be worse not to have them?

  2. ssw says:

    you got it goin on girl…keep em coming!