Another day, another movie. I’m dealing with some serious guilt here, mostly because there seems to be no immediate benefit to completing this Challenge. There is, of course. It’s an investment in my cultural future, and I’m writing a freaking book about this experience. Of course it’s worth it.
But it’s the same feeling I got when I was a “low-income student” (read: my parents were sh*tty with money) in college, and I felt guilty whenever I took an unpaid internship or wrote for any publication for no pay. Those were good investments. But certain people just need to justify most of what they do in terms of money. Maybe it comes with growing up poor. I have no idea. But it was weird to run into that feeling again.
The gist: Nicole Kidman plays a young mother in the 1940s, just before the end of World War Two. She and her two children are living in a huge, gorgeous house on the island of Jersey, which apparently is off the coast of France but is a legal territory of England. The place is real! But I didn’t know that coming in, I thought it was worth mentioning.
So there’s this family. But the more surreal elements come in when you realize that the children are medically photosensitive. They cannot be exposed to any light brighter than that of a gas lamp, or else they’ll basically self-destruct. Their religious mother is obviously bitter as heck that she has to live in a dark house in isolation to keep her children alive. But she springs into Mama Bear mode when she realizes that her house is haunted by unknown spirits, which may or may not be coming for her children.
What I “learned”: Parenting’s really hard. But the more you listen to your instincts, I think the closer you get to getting it right. Nicole Kidman’s character was very similar to a lot of parent characters I’ve seen from the 1960s: Kind at heart, but very distant and quick to criticize. But when things got stressful, she was a great mom whenever her inhibitions were down. That was when she was more likely to cuddle her children when they were scared, or send them off while she got a shotgun to blast the people threatening her cubs. Her children loved her best when she wasn’t trying to be a “good” mom, but just herself.
See this movie if you like: Historical movies, especially those with an upstairs/downstairs vibe. I think fans of Downton Abbey will appreciate a lot of the banter that goes on between Nicole Kidman’s character and the staff. The 1940s setting is timed very well; it’s the beginning of the end of customary servant-master relationships. The historical element softens the scares, and makes the Big Twist even more rewarding.
Avoid this movie if: You’re a stickler for exact historical details. Not everything matches up perfectly to what the 1960s in England were like. And history nuts will probably be able to figure out the Big Twist by looking closely enough. But if you’re willing to just let the settings wash over you, it makes for a very nice portrait of a family under pressure.
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