Margaret

July 14, 2012 4 Comments

“Margaret, are you grieving Over Goldengrove unleaving?”  So begins Gerard Manley Hopkins’ tender poem “Spring and Fall,” chosen by director Kenneth Lonergan as the title for his latest film.  This is a richly messy film, originally planned for release back in 2005(!), mired in editing battles and contractual conflicts until its final DVD release this week.  Never screened in the Detroit area at all, it is now available on demand (and probably Netflix) and well worth the search.  Lonergan’s original film was to run nearly 4 hours (the source of much of the studio dispute).  The current release lasts 188 minutes (with an extended version to follow)

Margaret is the story of  17 year old Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin), a post modernish New York teenager, who questions and smirks  and seems to have a quippy deconstructive comment for everything until she witnesses a fatal bus accident for which she shares a sense of blame.  Haunted with guilt, she plunges forward to exonerate herself by finding (her version of) justice for the victim of the accident.  Lonergan weaves a story that is lush with visual detail, provocative dialogue and bare emotion.  Lisa views herself as Joan of Arc and she is waging war on everyone around her (family and friends are not spared) and seems headed for her own immolation.  Matthew Broderick, Matt Damon and Mark Ruffalo are part of a stellar supporting cast which draws us into Lisa’s mission, forcing us to care.  There is an awkwardness to the story which resonates with our relentlessly self absorbed protagonist’s state.

Who deserves blame?  Who decides?  Should all mistakes be punished with equal zeal?  Is restitution possible?  Forgiveness?  Lisa, like the young Margaret in Hopkin’s poem struggles with an awareness of mortality that reflects a confusing, uneven  mixture of childlike innocence and adult awareness.

Lonergan never preaches, but leaves us intelligent hints (represented by classroom scenes of King Lear, student turmoil about Arab-Israeli conflicts in post 9/11 New York and satisfying scenes from riveting operas Norma and The Tales of Hoffman.  Lisa is admonished for treating her life as an opera and relegating everyone else to “supporting cast” status.  There is truth in this statement.  We flinch when we experience her confusion and wrath, but also feel how isolated and alone she feels.  (Oddly, no adults recommend any kind of therapy for her, despite her PTSD symptoms)…but I digress.

Margaret is an unusual film, relying on the depth and willingness of the audience to accompany Lisa.  It is an exhausting film to watch, but absolutely a “MUST SEE”….Jolyn Wagner

Rating this film:  8/10 (8 couches)  can a three hour movie feel condensed?  this one does a bit–it is wonderful in its edited form, but I wonder what the four hour version is like?

Must See Movie of the Week
4 Comments to “Margaret”
  1. Bruce Russell says:

    This film raises moral and religious questions. There is a difference between FEELING guilty and BEING guilty. If someone tampers with my brakes so that I’m unable to stop, I’m not guilty if, as a result, I run over a child in a crosswalk, even though I may feel guilty. Lisa distracts the bus driver and he negligently runs over a woman. Is she guilty or does she just feel guilty? She tapped on the bus door to get his attention, but does that make her guilty? She did not intend, nor could she reasonably foresee, that as a result he would run over someone. Those facts, I think, absolve her of guilt, even if she still feels guilty. She was a non-culpable partial cause of the accident but not thereby guilty.

    I assume the bus driver was responsible for the woman’s death because he was negligent, not paying attention when he should have. But was Lisa justified in making sure the bus driver was HELD responsible? Probably, but we wonder what motivated her to RELENTLESSLY pursue her goal.

    In the end, her anger seems to dissipate when she finds that her teacher, Matt Damon, is willing to TAKE responsibility. Why? Maybe because it allows her to take responsibility for what she believes she is guilty of, namely, causing the death of the woman. In Damon, she sees someone who can take responsibility without it destroying his life. He can take it calmly and maturely.

    Once she can take responsibility, she no longer has to put it all on someone else, namely, the bus driver.

    The problem of evil comes up in a discussion between teacher, Mattthew Broderick, and his student. The teacher maintains that the allegory of man and flies is like that between God and man: just as man has no concern for flies, God has no concern for man. But the student thinks that it shows that we are like the flies who cannot grasp man’s purposes. We are like the flies and cannot grasp God’s purposes and so cannot condemn Him for being indifferent to us and ignoring our suffering. There is a famous move in defensive move in philosophy against the problem of evil that says that God’s reasons are BEYOND OUR KEN ( the BOK manuever)and so the fact that we can see no reason for so much terrible suffering in the world does not give us reason to believe that there is none, and so no reason to believe that God does not exist. So should we also concede to the “Young Earthers” that God might have created the world 6,000 years ago with all its signs of age, for reasons beyond our ken? The student presents a famous theistic defense against the problem of evil; the teacher has no good response. He just asserts that the student does not understand the analogy properly. But isn’t God RESPONSIBLE for allowing so much terrible suffering of the innocent?

    Being responsible, feeling responsible, holding people responsible, taking responsibility: these are the things this film is about. Watch it twice!

  2. jolyn says:

    I agree that there is s vast difference between oufeeling gu8lty and being guilty..the poem Margaret is about the view of the world through a child’s eyes ..the film is also provdes us with such a view..she distracts the bus driver relentlessly and also seduces Matt Damon with the same imtesity….he should also have known better but is she to blame at all?..certainly in this film no one is totally innocent nut that can’t mean no one is ever guilty..I loved the complexity of this movie and would also see it again!

  3. jolyn says:

    I also recommend reading the poem

  4. Bruce Russell says:

    OK, here’s the poem for all to see.

    Margaret, are you grieving
    Over Goldengrove unleaving?
    Leaves, like the things of man, you
    With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
    Ah! as the heart grows older
    It will come to such sights colder
    By & by, nor spare a sigh
    Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
    And yet you wíll weep & know why.
    Now no matter, child, the name:
    Sorrow’s springs are the same.
    Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
    What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
    It is the blight man was born for,
    It is Margaret you mourn for.

    The poem says that Margaret is grieving for herself. Over what? Lost childhood? For her mortality, as the director of the film apparently said to Terry Gross on NPR.

    But is that really what the film is about? I don’t think so. Lisa does not grieve over anything. She is angry and obsessed, and ultimately confesses her feelings of guilt over the death of the woman. Does she mature? Yes, and I say because of the example the Matt Damon character provides of how to accept responsibility. But I don’t think she grieves or mourns.

    Does the student who argues with the Matthew Broderick character have a childish or immature view of the relationship between God and man? I don’t think so. His view is more sophisticated than that of the Broderick character, even if ultimately indefensible.

    I’m surprised that Lonergan finds the poem as the source of inspiration for his film.

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