Thursday, March 20, 2008

This and that

Dr. Susan Wicklund is possibly one of the most determined and driven people on earth. Her memoir, titled This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor is by turns moving, appalling, and triumphant. Dr. Wicklund has had to go to great lengths to provide service and compassion for her patients. She has been stalked, threatened, barricaded in her own home, and publicly harassed. She has worked in several clinics, traveled many hours, and missed out on good times with her family, days that were sadly numbered and are lost forever. Dr. Wicklund weathered these conditions because she had to, because abortion providers cannot operate in the local hospital, because there aren't enough abortion providers to go around, and so she traveled, sometimes wearing disguises and often armed and wearing a bulletproof vest.

I had mixed feelings while reading this: on one hand, I must admire her courage and resolve, but on the other hand, Wicklund had a daughter to raise and a marriage that eventually ended because of too much time spent apart. While there is no doubt in my mind that she did what she had to do, I couldn't help but feel sorry for those who loved her and wanted desperately to have her home more often. Her life has been quite a conundrum: behold the woman who knows exactly what she wants to do with her life, if only the world will grant her the grace and the time to do it all. Dr. Wicklund is a woman who has been constantly torn between her two loves, her family and her professional calling, and it makes for a heart-wrenching, emotionally charged story full of sacrifice and compromise.


Now, on to a bit of that: a rewind movie. Mike and I watched the film Gods and Monsters recently, and decided that it was every good as it was the first time around. The principle actors are Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, and Lynn Redgrave. This movie is set in the late 1950's and Ian McKellen portrays a real-life character, James Whale, the man who made the original Frankenstein movies. Redgrave is perfect, wonderful, and hilarious as his religiously uptight housekeeper who disapproves of Whale's homosexuality, but cares for him very much, despite herself. Brendan Fraser portrays Clay, a young man who is hired to care for Whale's lawn, and he certainly catches the old man's eye right away. Clay is uneducated, uncultured, a bit of a clod, and also a bit homophobic, mostly out of ignorance. When Mr. Whale strikes up a conversation, then persuades Clay to sit for a portrait, the young man has no idea he isn't doing anything other than accepting payment to humor an old man.

Clay is a very useful plot device, for while he's sitting perfectly still, James Whale starts to tell him stories of his unhappy youth and traumatic days as a soldier in WWI. Whale has recently had a mild stroke, and for him, these bad memories and rapid-fire thoughts are most unwelcome and scary. Clay soon becomes all too aware of Mr. Whale's sexual orientation, but because of the age difference and his fascination with Whale's life, the two men do bond and come to have an unusual friendship.

The James Whale depicted in this film is well layered; he is both understanding and disdainful, refined and vulgar, comic and tragic. He grew up poor in England, the land of rigid classes, and became rich and famous in America, and did as he pleased. But now, he's old and alone with his uncontrollable thoughts and memories, and Clay is a physical reminder of them.

I highly recommend this film! I liked all the characters.


TLP said...

The movie sounds great!

I was very much impressed with Dr.Wicklund in person. But are you perhaps being harder on her because she is a woman? Important men fail to be with their families all the time.

Ariel the Thief said...

So that's not Chris Isaak...

TLP, I think, that's not the same. Men and women may be equal but not the same. :-) She probably had too much manbrain in her head. Sorry for her family. Yay for her passion for an eventful and hard life.

Ariel the Thief said...

I can hardly believe that that's not Chris Isaak.

actonbell said...

Mom, I didn't mean to be hard on her, and I know that men do this all the time, and that's not fair, either. Actually, men fly away when they aren't even passionate about what they're doing. In this case, she's been truly torn all the time. I just thought it was sad, and it's appalling that that's the way it had to be.

Ariel, in that picture, I see what you mean!

Sean P. Farley said...

A good film, indeed. I'm not a fan of Brendan Fraser (I can't help but notice how AWARE of his own acting he is, like he's telling himself "Don't look at the camera, don't look at the camera!"), but Ian McKellan is a delight. And Lynn Redgrave? Awesome.

G said...

Ariel, your reviews are wonderful and often end up on one of my lists, now if I could start getting to them.

I don't think you were hard at all on her, it is appalling and tragic in every sense of the word. She certainly made extreme sacrifices. I think when a mother makes such sacrfices, the tear is all the more acutely felt.