Thursday, December 17, 2009

From one extreme to another

189 pounds
I've been lucky enough to see two movies this week—Precious and Brothers.

If you haven't heard, Precious is about a teenage girl (a Golden Globe-nominated performance by Gabby Sidibe) who is the victim of sexual, physical, and verbal abuse at the hands of her parents.

And Brothers is about a Marine (Tobey Maguire, also in a Golden Globe-nominated performance) coming home from Afghanistan after being presumed dead for months. In the wake of what they believe to be his death, his widow (played by Natalie Portman) and his brother (Jake Gyllenhall) form a close bond.

Both movies are outstanding, and I recommend them to everyone.

But what I want to talk about is the way these characters look.

At the beginning of Brothers, Maguire's character looks like a normal Marine—muscular and fit. But after spending months as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan, he returns home literally as gaunt and drawn as someone in a concentration camp, which was incredibly disturbing to see.

Not only does Maguire's character come home with a new body, he also comes home with post-traumatic stress disorder and some seriously disturbing issues because of what happened in Afghanistan. As a result, it is nearly impossible for him to be affectionate or intimate with his family. His character—malnourished to the point of being emaciated—looks like the walking dead, and when he lashes out at his confused and frightened children, it's hard not to dislike him despite what he's been through.

On the other end of the spectrum is Precious. Sidibe's portrayal of the movie's titular character is the exact opposite of Maguire's. Yes, like his character, Precious is haunted by a prolonged traumatic experience, but rather than become emaciated as a result of the abuse she suffers, Precious becomes obese. (A transformation which occurs before the movie begins and which the viewer only witnesses when the film flashes back to pictures from her childhood.)

But despite the abuse Precious has suffered, she has not turned into a monster who lashes out at everyone in her path. Instead, unlike Maguire's character, she is warm and giving, always looking for an opportunity for connection rather than shunning it the way he does. As a result, Precious is able to find others to help her deal with her issues in a way that Maguire's character is not.

In other words, the obese character is likeable, and the gaunt character is not.

I suppose this isn't really completely surprising given that overweight people have long been cast as the clown or the funny sidekick. Still, Precious is the MAIN character of the film, the protagonist.

And she's morbidly obese.

And everyone she meets adores her.

And the audience routes for her.

Did I mention she's severely obese?

So I can't help but wonder then if this depiction signals some kind of shift in our society. One of the goals of Precious, the movie, is to demonstrate that Precious, the character, is much more than a number on the scale, much more than her BMI. These things do not define her, nor do they determine how much people like or accept her. In fact, they have almost nothing to do with her interaction with others.

Before Precious, overweight people were a punchline, something to laugh at. But writer Sapphire and director Lee Daniels have given us a fully-drawn, complex character who just happens to be obese.

This raises the question, is it possible that our society is becoming more accepting of different kinds of body shapes? Are we finally learning that a small waistline does not determine a person's self-worth?

The answers to these questions must be yes because there is no way that their depiction of Precious—and Jim Sheridan's depiction of Maguire's Marine—doesn't demonstrate a change in our thinking. No, it seems obvious that with Precious, a clear shift has occurred. We are becoming a more tolerant society. We are accepting the fact that people—likeable people, interesting people—come in all shapes and sizes.

And I all can say is it's about freaking time!

No comments:

Post a Comment