Last night, Rhian and I watched a really excellent movie--the new Jonathan Demme picture, Rachel Getting Married. The film is a domestic drama starring Anne Hathaway as Kym, a drug addict returning home from rehab to attend her sister Rachel's wedding. The scenes that follow sketch out the family's eccentricities and dysfunctions, including a terrible tragedy in the past, for which Kym is responsible, and which has torn the family apart.
In conception, the movie is fairly conservative--this is the stuff of conventional drama, and the kind of thing actors like to enjoy surpassing with their performances. But Rachel Getting Married isn't a normal movie at all--it is, in fact, a literary work, more literary in ambition than most of the literary novels I've read in the past year.
What do I mean by this? I mean that what the movie is really about is, as Rhian put it afterward, the Mystery of Other People. It is concerned very little with plot, save for the open secret that drives it; rather, it is interested in what people are like and, more importantly, how much of what they say and do is against their nature. Rachel, the sister (played by Rosemarie DeWitt), is a wonderful character, by turns sweet and loving, and embittered and immature, and just when you think you know how she's going to react to something, she does something different. All the characters are like this, in fact, confounding our expectations, yet gradually adding to the picture of whom they really are, until what we end up with is a complex, interlocking plot strands, tiny mysteries, that we come to understand make up the fabric of life.
There are ways in which the movie is highly implausible, filled as it is with interracial harmony and unexplained affluence and good health, and yet it feels realer than anything I've seen lately. That's because it leaves everything unexplained. All the characters remain enigmatic; even the most pointed plot question--was Kym entirely to blame, or not?--remains unanswered.
This is what I like a book to do: make sense by not entirely making sense. Too many stories force characters to stay in character, to be what the writers have declared them to be, right up to the bitter end. Real personality, on the other hand, is elusive, protean. You can never really know anyone, and that is why they are so interesting, because you convince yourself over and over that they are knowable, that even you are knowable to yourself. And yet there are always, always surprises.