Thu, June 17, 2004

Salvation in Now, Voyager

In this week’s installment of the “popcorn blog” project, we’ll examine salvation themes in the movie Now, Voyager (1942). Where last week we looked at salvation as a decisive turning point for almost every character—choosing good when it mattered—in this week’s movie we see ongoing choices—for healing, and for good.

Sadly, the only copy of the film I was able to locate was an ancient videotape that was in pretty bad condition. I could usually hear the sound, but the screen often descended into dancing patterns of lines and scratches. Rewinding and tightening the tape seemed to help, but it was a struggle. The second playing was a bit better, but I feel spoiled by the digital clarity of DVDs. I hope the others participating in the “popcorn blog” fared better. Speaking of others, be sure to read Huw Raphael’s comments (and part 2) about the movie.

The movie revolves around the transformation of Charlotte Vale, and to a lesser extent, Jerry Durrance and his daughter Tina. We first meet Charlotte at her mother’s house because Dr. Jaquith has come to see her. We learn that she was a “late child” and that her mother essentially controls her. Her mother calls her “my ugly duckling.” Charlotte has suffered under her mother and never been allowed to break out and grow up. She carves beautiful boxes in her room, but they are kept locked away. Like Charlotte herself, no one seems to appreciate her work until the doctor—Charlotte’s niece, June, makes fun of Charlotte as well the boxes when the doctor shows off the one he was given. Like Charlotte, the boxes are things of beauty that are hidden and damaged by her mother.

Charlotte’s story goes through these stages:

  • Imprisonment
  • Breaking free
  • Healing
  • Recognizing truth
  • Love

Imprisonment

Charlotte’s mother is clearly controlling of her daughter, a grown adult woman. She picks Charlotte’s clothes, makes her wear “sensible shoes,” and dictates what she must do. When Charlotte dared to seek out love as a twenty year old on a voyage, her mother interfered and found fault with the man so that Charlotte stays alone. Charlotte lives behind locked doors and it seems she never leaves the house. Her family (other than her mother) is concerned about her mental state.

Breaking Free

Without the help of family members and a concerned doctor, Charlotte might never have escaped. She is allowed to go to Cascades, Dr. Jaquith’s “hospital” and starts to find herself. A supportive community is important for Charlotte and it helps her get on her feet. Still, she needs to do the hard work herself and we see her transformation throughout the film. We also see this connection between community and personal action in Orthodoxy.

There are several important symbols used in the film. When Charlotte meets Jerry for cocktails she wears an elegant dress and wrap. She’s gone from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan. She suffers some embarrassment that her “wings are borrowed” when Jerry discovers the note pinned to her clothes, but the point is made that they suit her. There’s the added symbol of the butterfly—she’s broken out of her cocoon and is on her own. Early on Dr. Jaquith tells Charlotte that he helps patients by giving them road signs: “Not that way; this way.” We’re reminded of this when Charlotte and Jerry are thrown together as they take an unmarked shortcut road. Immediately after this, Charlotte has to learn to find her own road.

Healing

Salvation is about healing, about restoring relationships and bringing things back into their proper place. Charlotte admits that healing begins for her when Jerry takes an honest interest in her. “You were my first friend and then you fell in love with me and I felt proud.” Her choice isn’t perfect, however. She falls for a married man — “with eyes wide open,” no less — and struggles with the impropriety of that to some extent. This was also something that bothered me while watching the film. I somehow wanted a better, more perfect relationship for her. It’s good to watch how the imperfect leads to something redemptive as she helps Jerry’s child, Tina.

As with her breaking away from her mother’s home, her healing is facilitated by others’ help. Jerry plays an important role in her learning about love. Dora, the nurse, also helps her with her mother. Dr. Jaquith plays a new role as a confidant and helps keep her on the path.

Recognizing Truth

Part of healing is being able to identify and live in reality instead of desiring illusion. The biggest challenge for Charlotte is to go back home and interact with her mother once more. Remarkably, she is able to set good boundaries “I stick to my guns, but don’t fire” and strives to be considerate of her mother, despite the previous years with her. I fully expected a large fight, but instead she “doesn’t want to be disagreeable or unkind.” Despite her mother’s attempts to manipulate and to critique her, Charlotte stays mild. She is no longer afraid. We even catch a glimpse that they may enjoy being together as she arranges flowers. Her mother admits that Charlotte now does what she wants, which is a big step.

Charlotte is also able to make friends with others. She wrestles with marrying Eliot, but they eventually both are able to admit that it truly wouldn’t work out. She doesn’t want to quarrel with her mother and when she finally admits the truth that her mother didn’t want her, her mother is so shocked that she suffers a heart attack and dies.

Love

Throughout her healing process, Charlotte is learning to love. The final chapter of the movie is her meeting and helping Tina work through similar challenges. Instead of closing herself up, Charlotte embraces the pain of not being able to marry—she tells the doctor that it is over with Jerry—and focuses on giving to others. Although her love for Tina is not entirely selfless, her heart goes out to her and she genuinely desires to help her. Jerry even is confused by her giving and doesn’t want her to have to do this, but recognizes that Charlotte’s motherly behavior has made Tina her child.

Charlotte has been healed. When she gives up on marrying Eliot she tells herself “You’ll never have a home of your own, or a child of your own.” By the end of movie, she’s been given the home she lived in all those years and is helping to raise Tina.


Tina asks, “Why are you so good to me?”
Charlotte responds “Because someone was good to me once when I needed it.”

Charlotte’s healing makes it possible for her to love Tina. In Tina we see a minor replaying of Charlotte’s life and a similar transformation. When one is saved, others can be as well.

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