Friday, August 31, 2012

"Hope Springs"

I hadn't thought about her for years, but since seeing "Hope Springs" recently, she's in the forefront of my memories.  Her name was Jane. I say was because, although I lost track of her,I know she's deceased.  If there is a heaven, she surely has made it.

Jane was 30 years my senior. Soft-spoken,serene, raised a Quaker, she moved through the world with a quiet charm and grace. She gave meaning to a word we didn't use to describe people in the 70's - she was grounded.

I wasn't grounded. One year after a painful and contentious divorce, I vacillated between anger and anxiety. Jane welcomed me, not with pity, but with compassion and an appreciation for skills and expertise I felt had abandoned me.  As we worked together to produce a critical thinking course for a pre-adolescent religion class, she became my anchor, a touchstone for calm and reason. I so admired and respected her. And I envied her - with a capital E.

Jane was married to a well-respected and well-love physician who obviously respected and loved Jane. Greeted her with open affection. Had a pet term of endearment. Touched her frequently. Listened attentively. Everything I had wanted in a husband, and didn't have.

One afternoon, sharing a glass of wine with them in their beautiful and comforting home, I confessed my envy.  There was a quick glance between them, a smile, a nod.  "Oh, honey, it hasn't always been this good."  They then proceeded to give me a quick synopsis of the rocky road they had traveled to get to the state of wedded bliss I was privileged to observe.

A tumultuous road. Nearly divorcing three times until their grown children, weary of the perpetual angst, called for a family intervention - another term uncommon in the 70's!
Their message, their demand - figure out what it takes to be happy together or divorce and get on with life.

With the help of a good therapist, (I now picture Steve Carrell), Jane and Doc came to realize that they carried so much baggage because they had never learned to fight well. Oh, they "discussed" things, increasingly argued, but their arguments were never resolved to  their mutual satisfaction. Usually, it seemed, to Doc's satisfaction. So, after almost 40 years of marriage, raising 4 children together, steeped in Quaker tradition, Doc and Jane learned to fight to a mutually safisfying conclusion.

By their accounts, they learned the hard way - by finishing the old arguments.  Jane, with a twinkle in her eye, illustrated by pointing out the pock marked fireplace, bearing the battle scars of a complete set of dishes destroyed in a fit of frustration and with a dose of satisfaction. Left unrepaired to remind them of their commitment to be happy together. Whatever it took.  Recalling that scene I still smill. I still sit in awe of that level of commitment.

Commitment is what I think "Hope Springs" is about. Not the humor conveyed in the publicity trailers. Although there are comedic moments, this is most definitely not a comedy.
Not even the sexual frustratrations of a long and increasingly unfulfilling marriage. Although the sexual difficulties are the emphasis of the movie, and heads up, there are a couple scenes that could be uncomfortable.  At the heart of this drama is a couple who, like Doc and Jane make a commitment to finally learn how to be happy together. Whatever it takes.

So, I enjoyed "Hope Springs".  I'm pretty sure not everyone would.  It has, in fact, received mixed reviews. I doubt it will earn the amazing Meryl another Oscar nomination. But it is a courageous film, calling for vulnerability on the part of the cast and the audience.  It is a mature film.  Certainly thought provoking. Asking not what it takes just to stay married, but the level of commitment to be happily married.

And who knew that Tommie Lee Jones could be a romantic hero?  Hope springs!

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