Sunday night, the Big Man and I watched Junebug, and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s an extraordinary movie.
In law school, exams often take the form of “issue-spotters.” The professor presents a story of a few paragraphs, and you have to spot and analyze all the legal issues. They’re exhausting, but also sort of fun.
Well, for me, watching Junebug was a happiness-project issue-spotter. (Another happiness issue-spotter is Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday.)
Happiness questions abound in Junebug: who is happy, and who isn’t, and why; and who is or isn’t contributing to others’ happiness, and how; the role of understanding, forgiveness, forbearance, and blame; and who’s living up to the duty to be happy.
My description makes the movie sound sappy or preachy, but it really isn’t.
Simone Weil wrote, “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”
Junebug illustrates this truth. The son who probably thinks he’s nobly rebelling against the constraints of conventional family expectations is shown to be selfish and tiresome—and in the end, in a thrilling but absolutely ordinary scene, he manages to rise up. The daughter-in-law who comes off as a silly, lonely chatterbox slowly reveals her strength of character.
Each family member makes decisions that affect everyone’s happiness—not dramatic, Hollywood gestures, but the kinds of decisions that everyone makes, every day. How to react to a new family member. How often to visit your parents. How to comfort someone. Even how to behave when someone enters a room.
There are so many little moments I can’t forget: When the mother Peg says, “Don’t worry about Ashley. She’s a firecracker.” When the husband George cheerfully stands up to sing a solo of “Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling” at a church social. The very last moment of the movie, when George’s wife, Madeleine, reaches out to touch him.
I’m tempted to watch the movie again, tonight. Usually I wouldn’t consider doing that, because it would be a “waste” of time—and yet, one of my resolutions for this month is to “spend out,” to spend, trusting that there will be more. And that includes spending out my time, without worrying about being rigidly efficient. After all, I know that sometimes the things I do when I’m wasting time turn out to be enormously productive.
Aack. I just remembered, I’ve already sent the movie back to NetFlix. Too efficient!