Between Lisbeth and Poppy

I’m a film fan and an addictive personality (neither of which is probably news to anyone who reads this blog for longer than five minutes) and I go through long spells where I will watch the same thing over and over again, in an effort to sustain the unique high each particular narrative or character gives me. I’ve had two films on heavy rotation lately.

Happy-Go-Lucky is Mike Leigh’s 2008 story of Poppy Cross, a North London bohemian school teacher whose optimism would choke a few people. The film opens with Poppy’s bike being stolen — an event that provoked a screaming fit and a few broken dishes when it happened to me. Poppy herself doesn’t break a sweat and doesn’t lose her smile. She takes it in stride and uses it as a reason to take driving lessons.

After the bike theft and a rather giddy, giggly, drunk party scene, we learn that not only is Poppy a school teacher, her younger sister is a law student. It’s a brilliant move to see these scenes one after the other — dispelling the stereotype of women who drink on-screen as persons of ill repute and breaking the initial image of Poppy as a person of Candide-like obliviousness. These are women who contribute. They take care of your children, they take care of your indigent. Poppy is a compassionate, empathetic person who listens to everyone — whether they’re her sister or her friend or one of her students or her cantankerous driving instructor. She is hyper-aware of the tremendous sadness in others and resonates without falling into despair herself.

The other film I can’t get enough of lately is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, starring Noomi Rapace.

Not to diminish David Fincher’s adaptation, but the original Swedish film has one thing up on his in that the sense of claustrophobia in Lisbeth Salander’s world never lets up.

Institutionalized brutality in the form of a country that had her declared an incapacitated person and facilitates the brutal monster who gets selected as her guardian when her own guardian falls ill. Lisbeth can’t make her own money without said guardian taking it away. She can’t take the subway without getting attacked by drunk party boys. The threats to her person are constant and her armor is always on. Her armor — a leather jacket, multiple facial piercings, dark make-up — is sneered at by said guardian, who asks about her number of sexual partners and whether she “carries disease” with wretched impunity. His prejudice, a tool to plant the seed of his vicious character, is common. Among both men and women, young and old, rich and poor. If a woman’s style is left of center, if it skirts the edge of expectation, she cannot be a person of any real worth and she has forfeited her right to take possession of her space, her money and her body.

Both films are about women in their late 20s, early 30s. Both films center around women living in large urban areas (London for Poppy, Stockholm for Lisbeth). Both focus on them as women and their ability to move independently within their respective cities and the ways in which they command their space. There are things and people who are out of Lisbeth and Poppy’s control. They each deal with them in different ways, getting hurt often but never losing a sense of who they are and what needs to be done to resolve a situation.

I’ve lived in Chicago for more than three years. The first two years, I had a partner and roommates. For the last year and change, I’ve been living alone. Chicago is a wonderful city but it’s not easy to live here. And living here alone, making the living that I do, has been a continuous challenge for me. Fighting loneliness is tough. Fighting the sense of having your space constantly invaded and staving off the depression and anxiety that follows is a bit more than tough. I find myself greeting each day sometimes like Lisbeth and sometimes like Poppy, trying to strike a healthy balance between the two extremes.

~ by blackmoodcraft on October 22, 2012.

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