I Detest Being Manipulated As A Mother By Bad Movies Like Gravity
No parent wants to hear about or imagine something terrible happening to their children. When we see something about disease or famine or abuse, we feel the pain almost as though it was our own child. That delicate nerve is what makes it so easy to toss a dying or sick kid into a movie for some guaranteed tears. When it’s done right, the waterworks flow. When it’s done wrong, it just makes me angry.
This weekend I saw the movie Gravity with George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. You know, the one everyone raved about. I do not feel the same, to put it mildly. I won’t even rant about how incredibly unrealistic it was or how there’s only two people in the entire movie and one of them goes silent after 45 minutes. No, I have bigger fish to fry, because I detest being blatantly manipulated by movies.
Just to lay the groundwork, let’s discuss some movies that manipulate me as a mother appropriately. When A Man Loves A Woman. It’s true they really pushed it when they have that adorable toddler girl asks her Daddy (played by Andy Garcia) if his new apartment “will have swaaaaahns” but it’s hard to be mad at that point. Alice’s (Meg Ryan) daughters play a big role in that movie and the story doesn’t shy away from exploring the impact of an addict on his/her children.
Jerry Maguire also does it well. Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki) steals many a scene with his gratuitous cuteness, but the truth of the matter is he presents yet another obstacle to Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) and Jerry (Tom Cruise) having a real connection and relationship.
Then we get to Gravity. If you haven’t seen it, Sandra Bullock’s character Ryan is closed off and anxious. Suave George Clooney needs her to relax at one point very early in the movie, so he starts asking personal questions. Where are you from? Who did you leave at home? Sandra Bullock answers the first with two words (Lake Zurich) and then as plainly as she answered the first, reveals how she had a four year old daughter but she died. On the playground. Slipped and fell — “hit her head and she was gone just like that.”
No flashback scenes, no stories of the good times, no backstory of how she became a single mom in the first place. She just lays it out there and expects me to cry about it. The rest of the movie finds Bullock trying to stay alive against low oxygen, not knowing how to fly emergency aircraft and general lack of knowledge about outer space. Until of course, those last fateful minutes when (*spoiler alert* — if really bad movies can actually be spoiled) she must decide whether she will just allow her hopeless self to die or whether she will muster up the will to live. When she chooses life, she calls a few tearful responses to her daughter, “I found your red shoe behind the couch” and of course a “mama loves you.” Cue the music and Bullock’s cracking voice, and I’m supposed to be in tears. Except I’m not. Because I hate movies that try to manipulate me as a mother without taking the time to actually tell the story, and tell it well.