Friday, March 18, 2011

The Kids are All Right -- morals, marriages, and marathons

Director: Lisa Cholodenko, 2010. (R)

"The kids are all right" is usually a sentence spoken in the midst of divorce. Two spouses break up due to their own issues, leaving the children to deal with the aftermath but they are usually said to be "all right." The issue here, though,is not divorce, but marriage, albeit an unconventional one!
Cholodneko's film is one that could not have been made a generation ago, even a decade ago. The content focuses on a same-sex marriage with two children created via artificial insemination. These are topics dear to the director's heart as she herself is a lesbian with a child via insemination.

Nic (Annette Benning) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are the lesbians who are in a long-term relationship. Nic works as a doctor while Jules stays at home as the mom, periodically trying to get a business going. Both have given birth using the same sperm donor, Nic to Joni (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland) who is about to graduate high school and move onto college, and Jules to Laser (Josh Hutcherson), a sensitive teen who hangs with the wrong crowd. Theirs is a nice, 21st century two-kid family.

When Joni contacts the sperm donor clinic to find the identity of the original donor, she is pointed to Paul (Mark Ruffalo, Zodiac). Her contact triggers the event that eventually throws the whole family out of balance and into turmoil. Paul is a laid-back Californian, who owns a restaraunt, keeps an organic farm, and rides a motorcycle. In short, he seems a perfect guy. Well, except for the fact that he is over-sexed and commitment-scared.

The film journals his entry into this family. His easy charm and carefree banter wins Joni and Jules at once, and more slowly gains Laser's and Nic's trust. But as he builds bridges with the latter pair, he unwittingly breaks bridges with the others.

The Kids are All Right was nominated for an Oscar for best film, but it is really not that good. As a drama, it has some very funny moments, mostly centered around Mark Ruffalo and his expressions or reactions. Its storyline is mostly linear with few surprises. It feels like its nomination was more a nod to the gay-lesbian community. The acting itself was good. Ruffalo is fine as Paul, conveying his man-childness credibly. Annette Benning picked up an Oscar nomination for her role, but I felt Julianne Moore was stronger and should have been the one honored here.

A pivotal and especially poignant scene occurs toward the end, one which precedes Nic's tearful self-realization that has been shown at awards gatherings. Jules walks in on the rest of the family, positions herself in front of the TV and then gives an emotional monologue:
Marriage is hard . . . Just two people slogging through the ****, year after year, getting older, changing. It's a bleeping marathon, okay? So, sometimes, you know, you're together for so long, that you just. . . You stop seeing the other person. You just see weird projections of your own junk. Instead of talking to each other, you go off the rails and act grubby and make stupid choices.
Then she dabs her eyes with a tissue and walks out of the room, leaving Nic and the kids to ponder this thought.

She has it right. Marriage is tough, a marathon. When we are young and in love, we see stars and dream dreams. Our betrothed can do no wrong. We want nothing more than to be married and spend our years enjoying one another. We expect to live an idyllic life together. With such rosy expectations, it is no wonder than many marriages falter and dissolve in divorce. The actual honeymoon lasts two weeks and the honeymoon year quickly fades into normal living.The glitter is gone and the glitz fades away. Life can become mundane and grubby.

Marathons are hard. I ran the very first London Marathon in 4 hours and 20 minutes. It was a long hard slog. After a while it is simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, seemingly forever. But with each step we move closer to the goal and the trophy. Along the way we can enjoy the journey, seeing the crowds, even taking on some refreshment. But if we take our eye off the goal, when we hit the wall at the 20 mile point we are tempted to stop, to ease the pain and relax. That is when determination and grit are required. We must push onto the finish, running the race to the end.

Heterosexual marriage requires such grit. Our love grows deeper as the years go by if we make concerted effort to push away the weird projections of our own junk. We cannot change our spouse, even if we wished we could. We can only change ourselves, and then only with God's help. By keeping the romance alive, the communications open, and recognizing that all things will pass, we can focus on the end goal, and keep the marriage alive and thriving.

Marriage and parenthood require responsibility and commitment. Nic and Jules had this. Paul did not. As he was introduced to this family, warts and all, he realized he was missing out on this aspect of life. Yet, he was not prepared to do what is needed to be part of a family. He wanted a custom-made, drive-through-ready, instant family. He did not understand the years of work needed to get there.

Today's American culture exploits the sexuality of the human person. We are seen as highly sexualized beings, just like Paul. But sex is only a part of the makeup. When we are driven by this base nature we are little more than animals and can easily focus on ourself at the cost of others. As Paul was freely giving himself to many women, he was causing pain to those he abandoned. Yet he did not see this as irresponsible, just part of living. As Christians, we see this approach to a sexualized lifestyle as destructive to all involved.

I cannot leave this film without commenting on the alternative and unconventional nature of the "marriage." Lesbian relationships are addressed in the Bible. God established the institution of marriage from the very beginning when he formed Eve for Adam (Gen. 2:22). He recognized the loneliness of the man he created. With woman, together they formed one new union, a partnership of soul-mates (Gen. 2:24). He blessed Adam and Eve; he did not bless Adam and Steve. Later, after the fall and entry of sin into the world (Gen. 3), God had clear words to say about same sex relationships: "Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error" (Rom. 1:26-27). God created woman for man and vice versa. He still loves the sinner but hates the sin.

Lest someone call me narrow-minded and fundamentalist, God is as opposed to hetersexual sin, like sleeping around, commiting adultery and fornication as Paul did in the film, as he is to homosexual sin. He desires what is best for us, and that is to live in a nuclear family, one founded on heterosexual marriage.

The Kids are All Right got a lot of press for its topical content. But it could have been based on a traditional marriage of Nick and Jules, with a working dad and stay-at-home mom, and the storyline would have worked. If the dad was sterile, the donor angle would have played out. And it would still have communicated a powerful message about marriage. But then it would have focused on God's plan in marriage, not society's plan.

Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs

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