Siblings with disabilities on the silver screen

How do other sibs feel about watching movies that prominently feature disability? I’m a bit averse to watching them, especially those with sibs, but just in general – I’ve never seen Other Sister” or Mask or My Sister’s Keeper, for example. I guess part of me fears that They Won’t Get It Right, and I’ll be frustrated, or that They Will Get it Right, and I will be reliving feelings I’m not sure I want to; either way, there’s a huge hurdle to the suspension of disbelief that I treasure in my movie time. (In doing some quick web searching regarding SWD in movies, I came across the plot summary for a Disney flick, Tru Confessions, and wow, I’m wincing. But then, I lost my love of modern Disney a long time ago, and Wikipedia is…Wikipedia.)

One film I have seen, however, is What’s eating Gilbert Grape?, and in fact recently re-watched it. (As of my writing this, it’s available for free, legal (commercial-including) viewing on Hulu.)

When I was in my teens, my grandparents moved to a house that was only about 20 minutes away, and my parents sometimes left me (and Lily) in their care. Normally just my grandmother, actually, as my grandfather was working. Anyways, my grandma took me to a video store and let me pick out whatever I wanted to watch. I really can’t tell you now what possessed me, aside from my growing realization that I found Johnny Depp to be attractive (I was what has been quaintly described as a “late bloomer”). It’s likely that the story seemed reasonably interesting, too. There ensued a fascinating afternoon in which I felt like I could relate to the character on screen, and I had this somewhat sick pleasure that I could induce squirmyness in my grandmother (who may have tried her best, but really isn’t all that comfortable around Lily).

Watching it again, well, it made me squirm. I felt awful for having inflicted this on my grandmother, although still a little glad, since I’m sometimes still mad about how she has treated Lily. More importantly than that: I saw us in the film. Lily used to love climbing as much as Arnie, although she (thankfully!) was kept from taller objectives than my upper bunk in our bed. The repetitive cheering, the repetitive Q&A, especially the part about the “where’s Arnie?” game – those were all unsettlingly accurate mirrors of my younger life with Lily. I’ve never been a huge fan of Leonardo DiCaprio, but wow, his performance in this film was downright impressive.

It was also terribly frustrating, for someone who hasn’t had super luck with dating recently, to watch a love story in which a random magically understanding person just falls out of the sky into Gilbert’s life. I suspect that part of my emotional turmoil derives from how painful it was to see a love interest who was so eager to help the protagonist find his own joy, his own desire – which is something my friends have helped me with, over the years – and as such Get It. In my current “tired and negative” mental space, where I seem to be stuck, the thought was screamed in my brain, over and over, that “this is not how things work! People do not understand! And if they do, they’re not willing to step into someone’s life when it’s so messy!” (This despite having my dated some wonderful, understanding men, some of whom did sort of just appear in my life.) That said, Juliette Lewis’ character didn’t read as 100% comfortable around Arnie, so I fully believe myself to be an unfair judge on this point. 😉

The reason I rewatched the film was that I had been involved in a brief email exchange about it, and the other person mentioned that he thought it was a really interesting examination of duty. (He didn’t know about Lily.) While part of me is inclined to agree, I also think it’s about fulfillment and satisfaction – what it means to have those things, how we figure out that meaning. Part of any human story, surely, but with an emphasis on how other people play into that process with a slightly sharper clarity than your typical story.

Overall, I did like the movie, quite a lot. But I think that my personal comfort zone will generally mean that I don’t watch other sibling dramas in film again for quite some time!


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