We have a library at work, mostly psychiatric textbooks and books about 'outsider', 'psychiatric' or 'Brut' art. On my way out the door on Friday I picked out Treating Attachment Disorders: From Therapy to Theory by Karl Heinz Brisch and only recently translated from the German. Because I was trained in the humanities, I like to read science writing. Clinical writing uses familiar words but they the requirements of the genre are such that they are organized in an unfamiliar way. As a reader I oscillate between feeling totally absorbed and mildly bored. I'm not good at languages. So science writing is my Spanish. I'm a motivated reader though: I have a toddler. I feel like there are insights to be gained.
Parenting, and its legacy, must the the theme for the weekend because I saw the dramedy Beginners (directed by Mike Mills) yesterday, a film in which Oliver (Ewan McGregor), a depressive graphic designer in his late 30s deals with his father, the magnificent Christopher Plummer, coming out as gay after the death of his wife at the age of 75. Although 'deals with' is probably too active a description. Oliver observes his father's sartorial transformation, a relationship with a much younger lover, a coterie of new friends and interests with curiosity and a degree of wariness. He, himself, is unable to make any relationship last. In a series of graphic interludes, he draws the faces of his ex-lovers and the years of their coupling. Is it any surprise he's such a sad sack? With unhappy memories of his absent father and dissatisfied mother he has difficulty believing in relationships. (There is a lovely, truncated quality to Oliver's scenes with his mother. The small pleasure she takes from life are staging socially awkward interventions. I guess they are her form of resistance.)
All of this plays out against Oliver's burgeoning relationship with Anna, a soulful doe-eyed French actress in her early 30s. They meet at a dress up party at which he arrives as Sigmund Freud. I'm not sure who she is dressed as. Charlie Chaplin? The French seem to love him. She is lovely naturally. He is smitten. It is the wake of his father's death and Oliver is sad. So sad he's composed a History of Sadness, a graphic book to illustrate the history of depression for one of his cool tribe clients. Unsurprisingly they don't care for it. And you know what? Neither did I.
Sometimes I forget how film, with its interplay of narrative and mise-en-scene, works on emotion. What did I feel watching Beginners? Low-level annoyance that would not let up. I was okay so long the action moved to Oliver's father. His embrace of life's possibilities, his own second act was heartening, even inspiring. But I couldn't abide by Oliver. He was not aided in the least by McGregor's low-testosterone performance, distracting American accent and slight overbite. Mills worked hard, too hard, to inject whimsy and originality into his set pieces with Anna. All I wanted to know was, what is it like to be an actress in your early 30s? Are you optimistic? Afraid of failure? I had no idea what either wanted for themselves or each other. All I knew with certainty on walking out of the cinema was I wanted some old Polish posters. If Oliver, a graphic designer in his late 30s in LA had a few on his wall, how come I, a graphic designer, a Polish graphic designer, in my late 30s didn't own even one?