Monday, January 07, 2008

Shirley Valentine

The other day I watched “Shirley Valentine”, a 1989 English movie about a 42-year-old Liverpool housewife who talks to the wall while preparing her husband’s chips’n’egg on a ‘steak day’ (what an outrage!), and all the while wonders what happened to her life. When her best friend wins a trip-for-two to Greece, she packs her bags and leaves on what will prove to be a transforming holiday.

It’s a good movie, based on a good play, but, although it’s considered a comedy, it didn’t feel much like a comedy to me. In fact, I found it quite sad. Certainly, I enjoyed the satire, the mockery it makes of certain male behaviour patterns, and of certain ideas of (British) superiority.

Valentine is her maiden name and it stands for the dreams of her youth, it symbolises what her life could’ve been if only she had followed those dreams.

But she hadn’t. This is what Shirley thinks while sitting at a table, next to a beautiful Greek beach, watching the sea:

“I’ve led such a little life and even that will be over pretty soon. I’ve allowed myself to lead this little life when inside me there is so much more… And it’s all gone unused. And now it will never be.
Why do we get all this life if we don’t ever use it? Why do we get all these feelings and dreams and hopes if we don’t ever use them?
That’s why Shirley Valentine disappeared. She got lost in all this unused life.”


For a good reason, her words struck a deep chord within my heart.

And then, while the thought of not returning home buds in her mind:

“Yeah… Because we don’t do what we want to do, do we? We do what we have to do and pretend this is what we want to do. What I want to do is to stay here and be Shirley Valentine. What I have to do is go back, back to being St. Joan of the kitchen sink.”

Don’t most of us who have reached a certain age have a Shirley Valentine tucked inside of us? I think we do, even if sometimes we don’t or don’t want to recognise it or admit it.

It’s true that she does stay behind when her friend returns to England, and she seems to be leading a more fulfilling life, but I wonder… Her features are still hardened in a quiet resignation if not plain sadness. She doesn’t look very happy to me. And if she returns to England with her husband, I’m afraid all will be back to “normal” in no time…

12 comments:

Wayne said...

I remember watching this film from the self-righteous comfort of a twenty-six-year-old single man's POV. I guess it may be time for a re-look.

SzélsőFa said...

You made me want to watch this film, too.
I've reached a point when certain ideas simply can NOT be fulfilled.
I was about to post this feeling the other day and will do it somewhere in the near future.

Do we loose much when we set new objectives?
I don't think so.

Akasha Savage said...

Shirley Valentine is one of my all time favourite films. Being now in my mid forties I can truly relate to where she is in her life...and yes, I think all us fortysomething women have a Shirley Valentine tucked away inside us somewhere.

moonrat said...

...but...(she says idealistically)... maybe it can be taken merely as a cautionary tale. a reminder to make your own passion?

Church Lady said...

I haven't seen it, but I am also sensitive to movies that say they are comedies but actually are making fun of someone's despair.

This reminds me of my favorite quote by my favorite author, Katherine Paterson:
You don't have to fight dragons to write good books. You just have to live deeply the life you've been given.


I don't think anyone's life is small.

Vesper said...

Yes, Wayne, that's a very safe position from which to watch this movie. :-) I don't know if it would resonate the same to you as to us women if you were to watch it again. I wonder if men think the same as women? :-)

Yes, try to watch it, Szelsofa. It's well worth it, for many reasons.

I know what you mean, Akasha. Maybe we too can somehow go to Greece (figuratively speaking)... :-)

Moonrat, a good way of seeing this. Yes, we should do that while there's still time...

Church Lady, they're not making fun of her life, it's more self-directed irony; the movie is in fact a long monologue, interrupted occasionaly by some dialogue, in which she reflects upon her life. I like very much your quote and I think you're very generous when you're saying that no one's life is small. But think of it this way also: for instance, you want to write, you've always wanted to write, it is your most dear dream, yet, due to circumstances, external and internal, all you do, all that you're allowed to do is work a mindless job, then come home to cook dinner (or tea, as the Brits call it) for a dull, ungrateful husband, and maybe do some washing, and ironing, and cleaning, only to start it all over again the next morning. And during this time your dream just gets further and further away - till you can't see it anymore...

Hoodie said...

I think it's a delicate line we have to walk on. To me, the measure of a great life is balance. There are things we are required to do. That's inevitable. But I still believe it's possible to craft our dreams into our lives. It just takes work. And there are points where there is, necessarily, a greater degree of "need" being fulfilled than "want." I'm still living on the hope that that scale gets tipped eventually.

Church Lady said...

Vesper, I can understand that life.
It's almost impossible to carve out something at home. So you do it outside. Do it for 5 minutes every lunch break. Then make it 10. Then 15. Then reach out to other writers. Read in the car, or listen to audio tapes.
Find a way, bit by bit, of incorporating your dream into your life.
I agree that for 99% of us it is impossible to give up your practical life and just chase your dreams. But you can be practical and achieve it in a different way. I really do believe that unless you are in abject poverty, you can do this. Incrementally.

Just my two cents!

Vesper said...

Hoodie, you're right. Balance would be very good. I'm striving for it and hopefully one day I'll achieve it.

Church Lady, thank you for coming back! :-) I'm doing exactly what you're suggesting. Sometimes though I become very impatient and it just gets really frustrating.

If you look at the quote from the movie, she says "I've allowed myself...". I think it's important because it's the key to this problem. As you said, we can achieve it in a different way. We just have not to allow ourselves to be fully separated from our dreams by the prosaic and necessary things in life. With patience. Incrementally. Thank you again! :-)

Taffiny said...

The term "dull, ungrateful husband" was my first laugh of the day, and out loud too. Which is odd, as I do agree with you, many said comedies are not funny. I saw The Break-up several months ago, and just thought it was sad.

I too can relate to Shirley. I think she goes to Santorini, looks so beautiful there. Is this the movie with the line, in surprisning tone "He kissed my stretchmarks!"? I liked this movie (saw it a long time ago). And how this other guy (who was not true) was not the answer either, she herself, her own mind, her own time, her own way of being in the world, that was what she was missing, and seeking, and finally saying "yes" to. In a way that did not 'set the world on fire', but felt like a huge personal revolution to her.

I wonder why we do hold ourselves back so much? There is nothing wrong with living a small life, if it is filled with what we love/care about. But living a small life, with dreams untried, that is another matter.

In my life, I am my biggest obstacle in pursuing my dreams.

You definitely have time needs, like suggested above, there is lunchtime, and why can't you ask for a half hour everyday/night for yourself? (or an hour on Sat. and Sunday, while it is still light out) Men seem to just take this time, but we don't. I remember when my son was little, I had to ask my husband if he would watch our son, so I could shower, or exercise, et cetera. He never had to ask, he just did. But each year does get easier.

I like Church lady's quote.

Absolute Vanilla (& Atyllah) said...

I loved Shirley Valentine, it's one of my favourite movies. I loved her courage, her determination to get up and rediscover her life after all the years of drudgery. I thought to myself, if she can do it, so can I - and I did - I recreated my life.

Have you seen the Italian movie, Bread and Tulips - very similar theme - and absolutely delightful.

Saving Grace, also a British movie, falls into a similar genre - woman is widowed, discovers her husband has been having an affair and has blown all their money and savings - and she reinvents herself with the help of friends - and by growing 'weed'! Brilliant and hysterical and very uplifting.

Shameless said...

I saw this in the UK when I lived there in 94 and I remember that it struck a chord. I loved it and it stayed with me for a long time. :-)