The emotion of grief and film

[This was originally posted on my Patreon, where I did not think it would go any further. After some consideration, I’ve decided to open up a little more and give you an insight into my personal life. I’ll be speaking about Midsommar and the effects that had on me later this week…]

The first reviews for Ari Aster’s latest film Midsommar have now been released, and it seems he has been consistent in the one emotion that drives the imaginings of the horror he creates; grief. I’ve often thought that it’s very easy to portray most emotions in film such as fright, disgust, love, excitement, pride and so forth, yet it seems that grief is an emotion not so easily conveyed unless your surname happens to be Aster. His directorial debut Hereditary was a film that really resonated with me on many levels that were so personal, it almost felt like an intrusion on levels of my emotions that have always been hidden as deeply as possible. Knowing that Aster is back to force my consciousness to delve into that one emotion that I’ve avoided for so long is both a source of anticipation and a source of severe anxiety.

We’re going to get personal here, which is exactly why I have decided to post this to my Patreon followers… I might eventually open this up to a larger audience, but until then, this is something for you. Grief is the one emotion that I’ve consistently avoided for the last eight years of my life – I’ve spent years running away from the reality that it is something that never leaves you, it follows you like a demonic entity on the path of revenge; relentless, consuming and forever a source of pain in your life. Even though I’m typically a happy woman with nothing to complain about, there is a source of inner disruption that unfortunately will last a lifetime and continue until I find it’s way into my final resting place. But what was it that made me run a thousand miles without a drop of liquid before confronting this emotion? The loss of my mother. I’m not looking for messages of condolences as that was something that came years ago, but it’s the sole reason that films which deal with grief are one of the most difficult to watch. The death of my mother was never unexpected, it was on the cards for a considerable amount of time; diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer with no hopes to beat it from the get go. When she was first diagnosed I was 17 years old with a perfect family, future and everything an ambitious young woman would need in her life. I distinctly remember returning home from Download Festival and my parents freaking out about the fact I was covered in dirt, to which I couldn’t fathom their reasoning. It was this moment where they had to explain to me about the dominating cancer that was now the fifth member of our picturesque nuclear family. That was a pinnacle moment in my life and one that defined the course of my future and myself. It wasn’t until the day I got the call from my father that my mother had gone that I truly recognised what that meant for everything. How can you begin to comprehend the emotions that will come when you lose your mother at 18? There’s no way you can prepare yourself for something that monstrous. 

The next few months I became consumed by grief; it is a black hole of nothingness that swallows you into its throat, but never fully digests you, leaving you to drown slowly and painfully in the acidic waves that it has created personally for you. You’re often told during awkward meetings after someone close dies that grief is a fleeting emotion, and that with time it will disappear and although you will miss that person forever, you won’t feel the way you do forever. That is a cruel lie. Grief is an underlying tone that stays with you forever; it may not be there everyday but it will be there ten years later when you remember a private joke between yourself and the deceased and there is no one in the world that you can mention it to. That wave of grief suddenly washes back over you, with small anchors made from loneliness, pain and emptiness instead of iron. It is those feelings that I have been trying to escape from for the last eight years since my mother departed this world, because I’m not someone who confronts emotions well, I’m someone who finds it much easier to bury them within the dark pit of my stomach and make inappropriate your mum jokes rather than admitting to someone that it still hurts. That’s the exact reason why when I initially watched Hereditary, there were so many emotions evoked that I wasn’t ready to deal with.

Hereditary is a horror film at its core, but it’s also a film that deals with how families deal, or more likely, don’t deal with a significant loss. How every relationship that’s been built up over the years can suddenly deteriorate within a matter of moments; with blame being thrown about, anger used as a metaphorical fist and confusion overruled every sane decision made. It makes the audience member look at them self and understand how they have reacted to grief in the past or how they would react to grief, which is no easy task to ask the audience to do. Grief often makes people do things they wouldn’t normally do, entering a state of consciousness that no longer seems to be controlled by the owner of that body, but more a separate entity that has a rage directed at the world and everyone that resides within it. Although grief is one emotion in itself, it seems to be a parent category for a few stages that come within it, something that is perfectly represented within The Haunting of Hill House. Even though I believe theses stages are a continuous state of someone who has gone through a devastating loss, it does help to recognise and represent how grief is not a linear process, nor is it something that can be defined by one word. It’s a complicated feeling that gnaws away at your very being until you become nothing but a shell of your former self, which is exactly why so many of us lock it away in treasure chests rather than confronting it. 

Confronting that emotion through the watching of Hereditary was something that I hadn’t prepared for… I never expected to have to mentally and psychically drag up my depressing past to get through and understand a film, but that’s exactly what happened. I will never say I’m happy for that experience, but sometimes it’s beneficial to go through such processes, no matter how painful and unexpected they are. The hurt within my being lasted for what felt like an eternity, yet it was some way of beginning to deal with something personal that I’d never faced head on before. That’s why when I first read the reactions to Midsommar and saw that it’s not only a film that deals with grief, but one that also deals with heartbreak, I knew deep down my subconscious is absolutely terrified for the emotional response that will be awakened, but also relieved that I will have another outlet to reflect and examine those emotions that I tiresomely keep so hidden from the rest of the world. Sometimes we run and run and run and keep on running until we think we’re clear of whatever it is that haunts us, but sadly our emotions are always tied to us and can never be outrun. Which is why we as humans often need to confront those emotions, and let them drown us for a matter of time before we resurface with a sense of relief and understanding that emotions are what make our DNA. Through cinema, which is a fabricated medium, we can find a form of escapism into a faux world that lets us stand face-to-face with the crushing emotion that stalks our lives and confront it without having to give any reason, rhythm or explanation to anyone about why it has provoked us.

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