Existentialism at Fifteen Baby-And-Me Movies
The first time I went to a “baby-and-me” movie, my daughter was about six weeks old, and I felt like I was simultaneously climbing a mountain, curing a global disease, and saving an entire city.
Alone with my baby in the black hole of my apartment, I was only capable of surviving from one moment to the next. But going to the movies is one of the grand luxuries of human existence and there was a theater only ten minutes away that welcomed babies one morning a week.
The movie that gets me to leave the house initially is Guardians of the Galaxy. I get up, feed the baby, prepare the diaper bag, change the baby, get myself dressed, make coffee, eat breakfast, feed and change the baby again, pump, then carefully strap her into the car seat and leave the apartment. I do it all for Chris Pratt. He reminds me of my husband—endearing, hunky, scruffy and doofy.
I call my husband’s office and he is shocked when I say: “I am in the elevator. I am getting in my car. We are going to the movies.”
Chris Pratt takes his shirt off and he is chiseled and beautiful and it is worth it. He dances and sings and makes dorky jokes. There is a loveable tree named Groot, and a very literal muscle man who makes me belly laugh as quietly as I can while my girl naps on my chest. The movie is everything that is wonderful about escapism. I am a human being in a theater, transported to another time, another world.
I am a woman able to leave the house with her baby.
I am a superhero.
I am too tired, yet, to feel anything.
The next week, in search of freedom and connection to other human beings, we see A Dolphin Tale 2. I’d never seen the first installment, but I think, why not? I love dolphins. Who doesn’t?
Next to me is a new mom with a baby even tinier than mine. She is there with her parents, and I watch them help her sip water as she nurses and help change the baby’s diaper. I half-wish I wasn’t alone, and am half proud of myself that I am. I look around, and most of us in the theater are women alone with our babies. I know they must feel the way I do–desperate to connect but too tired, too afraid of losing hold of moments with our baby, afraid our old selves are nowhere inside our new bodies, the ends of our nerves frayed with hormones, with delirium. They must feel this too.
This is the kind of movie a new mom needs. She needs to see that there are good people in this world who fight for the well-being of dolphins, and win.
My little girl sleeps on my chest, the most comforting, blissful weight. The movie makes me smile and it feels like the best day of my life. An hour later, I am so lonely, so flattened out that I drip tears onto my chicken sandwich while my baby watches me, kicking her feet and cooing like a pigeon.
I don’t know anything about Cavalry and don’t know what to expect. The main character, a priest, is getting death threats. He is a good priest, with a daughter, an alcohol problem, and a dog. In any other time in my life I would have loved the movie but I am a delicate butterfly pumped full of hormones unable to cope with the reality and cruelty of existence.
I keep thinking about a scene where the priest is walking down a country road and happens upon a young girl. They speak amicably until her father comes, enraged, suspicious that the priest is a pervert. But the priest is a good man, paying for the sins of his rapist brothers.
I leave the movie, despondent, because life does not end fairly for this priest. At the very end of the movie, his daughter, someone who should not be capable of such grand levels of grace, forgives her father’s murderer.
The rest of the day, and the week, I think the movie is trying to say that this life is bigger than any individual life. We are bigger than our bodies. Our bodies are inside of our families, our friends, our states, country, and religions. It makes me feel like we don’t matter.
My baby is ten weeks old. She is my universe. I need to know she has a chance. That she matters. That we matter.
The movie reminds me that the dark box of the theater is not just for escaping. It can alter me, change my brain, we can go in one person and come out another.
The Skeleton Twins makes me feel like Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig and I are in a cocoon of loneliness and laughter. This Is Where I Leave You is a similar movie—comedians, New England, family dysfunction, light and funny and sad. I leave thinking about Tiny Fey’s character, and about how we don’t see her point of view. Movies are usually just from one point of view, and in this movie the husbands flee, they go to work, or they go to Maine, and leave the women with their children.
My husband takes a day off and we see The Judge, also a movie about family and going home. I feel at peace with my husband next to us. The baby burps so loud, her body shakes. We laugh and she looks at us with adoration. We get chicken sandwiches next door. I think I need someone to help me love her. We are usually alone all day and I can’t hold all this love. It will crush me.
I probably never would have seen The Drop in theaters under normal circumstances, even though this is James Gandolfini’s last movie. Growing up, watching The Sopranos was a family event, like Christmas. We used to gather around the TV on Sunday nights, three generations of people, sometimes 15 people stuffed into couches and sitting on the floor. Now, across the country, I sit in a theater alone with my and watch this little, understated, surprising movie.
I audibly gasp at the twist in the end of the movie, because you are free to make noises in baby and me movies, since half the people there are freely belching, singing, screeching, farting, and blowing raspberries.
Tom Hardy is the heart of the movie. It is his movie and we are on his side. If we can see through another person’s point of view, we are almost always on their side.
During Gone Girl, the theater is packed. It looks like a lot of dads took off work. This is the first book I read post-partum–I needed something dumb to read and Gone Girl worked. I have no emotional involvement in the film, and for that I am grateful. It briefly goes into the woman’s point of view, but we are never on her side. We are on no one’s side, as almost all the characters are despicable.
Afterwards, I look around and linger and I want to ask someone, please come to lunch with us, lets the four of us get lunch, and I try after a few movies, but people scatter, or they don’t want to, or they say they are going somewhere else, doing something else.
I get a chicken sandwich next door. The kid behind the counter knows my name. I sit outside and eat and the baby looks at me. She watches my every move. She thinks I am the most interesting thing in the universe. I think that of her, too.
How can I feel this despair, why do my eyes constantly well with tears, when someone is looking at me like that, all day?
I hate Nightcrawler as I am watching it, but months later I am still thinking about it. The movie isn’t about a psychopath, like Gone Girl, it is about a society that capitalizes on suffering. It is about the worst aspects of humanity. Jake Gyllenhaal is slimy and vile and I want to throw a tomato at the screen, but I don’t understand why we aren’t seeing this movie from Pricilla Presley’s point of view. All these movies can be seen from a female character’s point of view. I look down at my sleeping baby and I tell her we are just as interesting, we are more interesting than men, but you wouldn’t ever know it going to the movies.
I am not sure what kinds of movies I want to see, what I can handle. My hormones attack movies and bury them into me and make me feel like the human race is a waste. I start filling up my DVR with shows from the Smithsonian channel about waterfalls, the Great Barrier Reef, and aerial views of small towns.
My mom visits and I can’t wait for her to see St. Vincent with us. She gets a large popcorn and marvels at the vast selection in the soda machines. I would never get popcorn because I don’t think I deserve it. She looks around at all the babies: “This is hysterical.” I am so happy to be able to share this with her. I let my mother hold the baby while she naps. Why does holding a sleeping baby feel better than any other intimacy? Because it is so brief? Because soon they will outgrow their tininess? Because they are completely innocent, and can’t survive without you?
My mother says: “This movie is nothing without Bill Murray. He can get away with anything.”
After, we look around for a place to eat lunch. It is a beautiful day, and I just saw a Bill Murray movie with my mom and baby daughter, but I feel punched in the gut with despair when I can’t decide what we should eat. I don’t know how to reconcile the world so that it makes sense.
The baby falls asleep in the car on the way to Interstellar. She spends much of the movie asleep in the car seat. I want to hold her. The movie is about love and I feel like throwing up about once an hour because I can’t handle how much I love her.
The movie is fantastic. There is a family of four behind me, a mom, dad, baby and a five-year-old boy. I keep turning around to look at the little boy–he is enamored with the movie and doesn’t budge. Back in NY, my mother goes to see the movie by herself. Thinking about my mother seeing a movie by herself, eating popcorn, makes me want to sob. She says, “I don’t get it. Matthew McConaughey spends the whole movie looking for his daughter, finds her, spends five minutes with her, and leaves.” I try to say, this is a movie about time. All I can think about is time. I want it to be slow and fast and want to grind it up into a pill and swallow it. I want to know how to let time come and go with peace.
During Birdman, I stand and sway until the baby falls asleep. It is one of the last times she will sleep a long stretch at a movie. I love movies that treat hallucinations as if they are real. I love the meta aspect of the movie–Michael Keaton as the Birdman/Batman–it’s a movie aware of its place in the world, and it’s fitting because the movie is about how ego coexists with humanity at large. It is what all movies are about. All books. All art. It is why I am depressed, lonely, tired. We want to matter, to be special. But we aren’t. There is a little girl sleeping on my chest, her tiny face tipped towards mine, her sweet breath against my neck. She is all that matters to me. How can it be that we don’t matter otherwise?
In the end Michael Keaton’s daughter brings him a flower, the kind he actually likes, and rests her head on his chest. She knows him and forgives him for being a bad father. I’m not sure what happens at the end. His daughter either heals him and enables him to actually, really fly like the Birdman, or he learns he can’t ever shake his ego and kills himself. But his daughter sees him fly– so do the hallucinations become real, finally, or does the daughter become sick with ego as well?
I think it takes more than your daughter’s head on your chest to make magic real. I think he died, and the sickness passed on to her.
But then I look down and my daughter is sleeping on my chest, her face pointed up, eyes sealed shut, little fingers clutching at my shoulder, the most fantastical and magical and sweetest thing I have ever seen. So I don’t know.
The next week, we see The Theory of Everything. The main actor and actress are both so good. I am so glad Stephen Hawking’s wife tried to have a life outside of taking care of himself. Women are heralded for staying, for supporting, for putting themselves aside. I am trying to not put myself aside too. But it is so easy. It’s easy to take charge of everything. It’s easy to disappear.
Then, there is The Imitation Game. I go, even though I know how Alan Turing’s story ends. I know I shouldn’t go, but I want to see him break the code. I want to see him win, but I should have left ten minutes before the movie ended because the ending sends me into a tailspin. How do we allow this kind of suffering, the kind that can be helped? What is the purpose of this rampant need inside of us to feel like we are superior, that we can pass judgment, that we are God? How can we have children in a world such as this? A world that can turn on them, persecute them, beat them, rape them?
People ask, how can God allow suffering, and the answer is God has nothing to do with us. We allow suffering. We do this.
I want to see Selma the next week, but I am traumatized by The Imitation Game. We are ants at war, climbing over dead bodies trying to get to the top of the pile. I want to put my baby in a bubble forever. I want the world to be safe and good and for people to be kind. Do I teach her to toughen up and sharpen her nails and beat others to the top or do I teach her to soften and practice forgiveness like the priest in Cavalry?
The movies seem to be telling me that individual lives are destroyed and marred and beside the point. We are not here for individual lives. We are here for a much greater whole, to learn something, for time and space to shift and we along with it, to expand and grow as a society and fail and start again.
Lately, we don’t go to the movies as often. The baby needs to be napping in her crib and I need to be working while she naps. But we see Whiplash because I know it won’t send my hormones into chaos. The movie is almost a testament to the individual, what one can accomplish when pushed. The movie ends on what is probably the best moment of both the main characters lives. In a way, we are all this jazz drummer. We are constantly pushed and tested and demeaned and regardless of that, we survive. We keep going.
I want us to matter, my girl and I. And we do. To each other. To my husband. To our families and friends and maybe no one else. I want her to experience this grand world. I want her to be happy and if she must suffer, I wish for it to be gentle enough to not break her. I want to tell her there are worlds inside of worlds, places were we matter, and places where we don’t matter, where we shouldn’t, where we can’t.
Sara Finnerty has essays and stories published in Black Warrior Review, Brevity, Joyland, The Weeklings, Dame, Burrow Press, and others. She is the co-curator of The Griffith Park Storytelling Series and Sunday Editor at Entropy magazine. Sara is originally from Queens, NY and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter. Find her at www.sarafinnerty.com.
Photos: Sara Finnerty