this is me without you

*Sometimes I question our culture's lionization of individualism. On one hand, it pushes us to differentiate ourselves and affirms that it is okay, if not best, to do so. On the other, there exist social norms that bind us to a certain extent of individuation. Our culture's individualism equates dependence with weakness, making the Jack London-nomad and the Indiana Jones -- explorer the heroes of our lives, the characters we should strive to embody. Yet this exhortation to differentiate, when superimposed on a social context -- a context most of us have to and choose to navigate-can result in cutthroat competition, surges of jealousy, and the playing out of Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game." Or are those things just the darkest projections of human nature?

*One of the greatest relational ironies then is the fact that the most intimate relationships are also some of the darkest. Obsessive loyalty and obsequious empathy somehow mandate a counterbalance of treachery and malice, which are all the more treacherous and malicious because of they are subtle and more importantly because they are yoked to the most angelic of virtues.

*Me Without You (2001, dir. Sandra Goldbacher) is a coming-of-age movie that traces the lifelong friendship of Holly and Marina, two girls growing up on the Isle of Wight in the 70s. It is difficult to watch without seeing some of their lives in your own -- moreso the nuances and attitudes embodied in their friendship than the plot itself. You see the imbalances of their friendship: the way Holly always feels mousy and invisible next to Marina and how Marina uses that fact to bolster her own self-image, the way Marina is so needy and can manipulate the shit out of Holly but Holly ingratiates herself to Marina and can see that Marina depends so much on her; but those very imbalances also prove complementary in some good and other sick and twisted ways: they give each other social security; Marina quells the timidity in Holly while Holly tames the wild child in Marina; Holly's calm and balanced family is the antithesis to Marina's unstable and broken household. Yet to reduce the friendship to such simple declarative statements would be too easy -- and false. Every relationship is more complex than that. There are no straight lines, no clear actions, and no easy dichotomy of right and wrong.

*Holly and Marina's friendship is riddled with the anxiety of growing up, the necessary discomforts of discovering and shedding skins, of needing the security found in each other but so desperately wanting security in an identity apart from the other. When uniqueness becomes so personally significant, jealousy also becomes easier, and loyalty feels suffocating. Holly loves Marina's brother but Marina does everything in her power to prevent the fruition of that love, for Holly's loving anyone else, especially her own brother, seems to be a threat not only to their friendship but to Marina's own worth and existence. A manifestation of this horrible tension plays out in the separate, furtive romances that Holly and Marina each develop with the same professor. Each so longs to be loved and desired outside of their friendship. At the very least, each wants to be assured that this is a possibility.

*The thing about friendships is that they are as beautiful as they are messy. They are far from ideal, as I've learned and slowly swallowed. The amount of intimacy often directly correlates with the number of words and feelings left unsaid. Me Without You is not so much about two lives in tandem as it is about the single life formed out of two people, and that is a life so fraught with both love and hatred -- or something that is the combination of the two -- that it can be excruciatingly painful to watch. It's hard to love any of the characters more than another. This isn't a movie trying to further a storybook plot. Instead it sheds light on the delicate complexities of relationships that we can recognize outside of ourselves but are obscured or ignored in our own relationships. At the end of the day, even after the worst of betrayals, Holly and Marina lie side by side with their back on a bed, legs propped up parallel to the white bedroom wall, smoking cigarettes to their toes. They're together, even thirty years later, but this is no fairytale ending. Friendships never are.

*A quote from Jacques Derrida on friendship, taken from my friend Alyssa's thesis on friendship:
"The possibilization of the impossible must remain at one and the same time as undecideable – and therefore as decisive – as the future itself ... but not without suggesting that friendship is implied in advance therein: friendship for oneself, for the friend and for the enemy."

*I'll let you think about that one.