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…