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Posted on 12/28/12 07:11 PM
No One Can Hurt You Like Family
Every once in a while, someone I know posts an image on Facebook about how you should post here if your sister or your mother or something is your best, dearest friend. I love my older sister, and I love my mother, but I have an awful lot of problems with both of them. I never repost the things, because there's nothing that can be said that won't just lead to a great deal of fighting with whoever posted it. They seem to think that I should overlook all personality conflicts and all slights, and I should love my family unconditionally, whether they deserve it at any given time or not. The truth, however, is much more akin to to what we see in this movie. The women of this family love one another very much, but that doesn't always mean they like each other. They also resent one another for different reasons, some of which go back many years. This is more what my own family is like than the happy, loving one my Facebook friends post about.
Agnes (Molly Parker) is coming home for the first time in years. She's been living in Toronto, but her mother (Marguerite McNeil, I believe) is dying in Nova Scotia. She goes home. Agnes is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. Theresa (Rebecca Jenkins) has retreated into devotion to the Catholic Church, and Louise (Stacy Smith) has just retreated. It doesn't take Agnes long to pick up on the fact that Louise's friend is more than just a friend, though Louise doesn't want to admit it. Agnes decides that their mother will come home, and she will take care of her. Theresa doesn't believe Agnes will stick to it, and she resents that she will end up being the one responsible for her mother's care. What's more, before Agnes left for Toronto, she gave a child, Joanie (Ellen Page), up for adoption. She isn't supposed to have anything to do with Joanie, but that is how Agnes is trapped in the past. She can neither let go nor stay away.
Naturally, I have a lot of sympathy for Agnes on that one. It's made clear that she promised Chrissy (Hollis McLaren) that she will have nothing to do with Joanie. It's a promise a lot of women have made and a lot of women have come to regret. While Agnes was in Toronto, she was far enough away so that she wasn't as drawn to Joanie. She doubtless thought about her quite a lot, but without the constant temptation to visit, she was able to go about something much closer to a normal life. Though it wouldn't surprise me if the trouble Agnes has had with drugs over the years has been at least in part because she has been unable to deal with her emotions over having given up her child. Joanie's unhappiness and frustration, too, is in part because she doesn't believe she knows who she is. My daughter, who is about the same age, has never said anything about "real" parents that I know of, and I think that's because her past isn't hidden from her and treated as forbidden.
I must say that I also feel sympathy for Theresa. Agnes comes swooping in after we-don't-know-how-many years and announces that, her unreliable past to the contrary, she will now be the responsible one for their mother. It kind of reminds me of my aunt's declaration that no mother of hers would go into a nursing home, despite the fact that my mother had been the one doing all the work for Grandma for years. (As you can see, severe sibling rivalry goes back generations in Mom's family!) Mom washed her hands of the whole thing; Theresa doesn't have that option. Theresa and Louise still live in their mother's house, and it is to that house that their mother returns. Certainly Theresa isn't going to choose that time to leave herself, so no matter what happens with their mother, Theresa will be left to deal with it. This makes it probable that Theresa will be left to clean up after Agnes, and it's implied that she has done so many times before and had gotten used to not having to do that anymore.
This is neither a truly happy movie nor a truly sad one; Rather, the ending fits under "about as happy as it's going to get." We can hope that Agnes isn't going to keep drinking, but we have no real reason to believe it. Some of her issues are resolved, but not all of them. Even if they were, that doesn't mean that the addiction will go away. I think there's the most hope for Louise, who appears to finally be deciding that she is content with who she is. However, even Theresa is coming out of her shell some. The three women have lived hard lives, though some of that was their own doing, and things aren't magically happily-ever-after now. However, whatever is coming up next, the three seem able to face the future. Part of it is that, at last, they are at least somewhat reconciled. If nothing else, Agnes has proven that she can stick something through, and that will help her with Theresa. Several things have been salvaged, and some of that salvage even seems likely to last.