I live alone in the city and the bouts of loneliness that arise are not uncommon or infrequent. Even in the center of what many people may consider the most exciting place in the world, loneliness still manages to creep into my sixth-floor walk up.
However, to my delight my mother made an impromptu visit this weekend. With school in recess, and an Easter break from work, I was looking forward to two days of complete uninterrupted girl time with mom.
After spending hours catching up we decided to watch one of our favorite movies: "The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood." I’ve seen the film over a hundred times but watching it this time was notably different. I don’t know if it was because I was watching it with my mother for the first time in MY own apartment or if it was because of the distinct Woolfian influences I finally noticed in the film.
For those of you who haven’t seen it I’ll give you a short synopsis. The plot revolves around the complex relationship between Sidda Lee Walker (Sandra Bullock) and her mother, Vivi Abbott Walker (Ellen Burstyn). Conflict arises when Sidda Lee reveals painful childhood secrets in a Time magazine interview that paints her mother as a less than enviable parent. Amidst all the misunderstandings between these two women, Vivi’s closest friends, (The Ya Ya’s) abduct Sidda Lee, and take her back to Louisiana to reconcile some of her most troubling childhood experiences. Throughout this journey Sidda Lee discovers some painful truths from her mother’s past that lead her to acceptance, forgiveness and rapprochement towards her mom. The film touches on issues of feminism, gender roles, race, sex, family and most importantly the relationship between a mother and her daughter.
My mind was bursting with excitement upon a scene when Ashley Judd (a young Vivi Abbott Walker) confesses: “In my thoughts I want to abandon my children. I want to injure my husband. I want to run away and I want to be unattached. I want to be famous.”
This is INEVITABLY influenced by the story of Susan Rawlings in Doris Lessing’s “To Room Nineteen.” (MIND BLOWN).
To prove this further, in the later scenes, Ashley Judd eventually checks herself into a hotel room to escape the demands of her children and husband. The characteristics of the room had striking similarities to Lessing’s description of the room in her short story.
In an earlier scene in the movie Sandra Bullock tries to rationalize her estranged relationship with her mother by saying, “If I had an easy childhood I wouldn’t have had anything to write about.”
(This has Bechdel written all over it. And Woolf from "A Sketch of the Past," and perhaps even Lessing since many of her stories were autobiographical).
The depth and influence of Woolf's work is still evident today. Rebecca Wells, author of "The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood," was a writer I never would have previously associated with Woolf. It's exciting to view her in a different light, while also gaining new perspective into a film that I thought I knew so well.
For those of you who haven't seen the film, watch it! And for those of you who have already seen it, watch it again! You'll find yourself making Woolf references from start to finish.