Thursday, December 20, 2012

Take This Waltz. (2012) Sarah Polley

"New things get old," a naked elderly woman says to three younger naked women taking a shower in a public locker room.


A drunk, who, seconds after crashing her car in the driveway, is lecturing her sister-in-law for abandoning her marriage: "Life has a gap in it... You don't go crazy trying to fill it like some lunatic."


These two statements are the core themes of Take This Waltz, a film which has a few truths mixed in a bucketful of suggestions which, might also be true, and show us a way not to live -- but it's a miserable spectacle to see.

Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen star as Margot and Lou, at the five-year mark in their marriage. They're a couple who care for each other, and probably still love one another, but have lost the spark and can't figure out how to reignite it.

They've lost their ability to engage (they know each other too well to converse in a restaurant), they horribly fail at spontaneity (she cries after several attempts at seducing him in the kitchen), and they've grown too comfortable with each other's presence, losing the joy and sense of fondness they once shared. It seems Margot is looking for the spark a trifle more than Lou -- whereas he is happy in the stability of his home and marriage, she wants every day to be fairies and fireworks.

Enter Daniel (Luke Kirby), the new neighbor from across the street. He's a mysterious loner, a good-looking solo artist who doesn't show any of his melodramatic paintings. He is sly, and fit, and runs rickshaw around Toronto. He's broke but wears the persona of a "Fifty Shades of Gray."

At first he runs into Margot by chance, but as the film moves toward the inevitable they are constantly seeking ways to run off and hang out. They do coffee, they take walks, they condescend and harass one another to no end. There's something going on here, and Margot begins to feel a bit unnerved.

Daniel would be the "new," Lou would be the "old," -- Daniel might be the "fill," Lou might be the "gap".

A truth, hard as it will be, is at least found in Take This Waltz. Margot won't find happiness by running off with someone else. She'd be leaving not only her husband (and a good man), but a supporter with common bonds and a shared history -- and in doing so she'd be leaving many of their mutual friends as well. Her choice, should she go there, will hurt her, leaving her even more unsatisfied than before -- a fact of life depicted quite well in the miserable Take This Waltz -- depicted so well, I never want to see the damn thing again.

The truth often hurts. And these situations hurt. And all kinds of hurtful (read: truthful) questions still rise, questions which anyone who wants to grow might be prone to ask: Can any ONE person really complete ANOTHER? Is that "gap" able to be filled by another person, or is it made to be filled by something larger? (Can an individual fit into the God-shaped hole?)

"You complete me," was the dialogue-turned-pop-expression by Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. But -- really? Is it even fair to hoist this kind of burden on another individual?

Like the suggestion in the phrase, "You complete me," all of the characters in Take This Waltz, but Margot in particular, come across as half a person looking to add another half a person to make some kind of Whole in the end. As if a fractured, unhealed individual might be able to add another partial person to their lives, and that together they might make a complete unit.

But in relationships, this doesn't work. If you don't take the time to work on your own self first, you are not going to be completed by the love of someone else -- nor the emotional strength, sex, or help of someone else (although it may work for a time).

I've always thought of this in terms of math. Whereas many would like to use addition, making a 1/2 plus a 1/2 equal one whole unit, I've thought that perhaps we need to look at it as multiplication. One whole times one whole equals, yes, one whole relationship.

All the truth that's found here seems like it might make for a masterful film. So many times these days we see depictions of people who seem to do the wrong thing and live happily ever after. So it's to be lauded that a director like Polley finds a way to make us squirm in our seats, to see the devastation of moral failure so clearly.

However, a suggestion at the end of Take This Waltz leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth (though it may still ring true). The suggestion is that all of these characters are lonely, miserable, untrusting, feeling used, probably slightly bitter and most definitely hanging on to some kind of resentment. That no matter who they end up with they will always want something more, and no matter who they are fucking they'll only wind up feeling fucked.

It's bitter, but it's true -- if you're planning to live your life the way these characters do.

This is a film full of truths, and suggestions that I hate, and lives that take paths that are inwardly destructive and no fun. When and if some of these characters choose to have kids, their kids will have terrible examples and will wind up on the same meds as their divorced parents.

That the film shows truth-in-action is a noble pursuit. That the film shows broken people who find wrong ways to "heal," and that the ramifications of their poor choices are clearly seen is a rare thing in a story these days.

But is it fun to watch? No. I doubt I'll ever watch this wretched thing again.

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