Lady Bird is the new film from director Greta Gerwig in a semi-autobiographical work staring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Mefcalf (Gerwig has said nothing in the movie happened to her, but the feelings and core of the movie did). The film is an exploration of the troubled relationship between a mother and daughter, struggling to find understand each other.
Lady Bird is not actually her name, it’s the name she’s given herself. She’s determined to find out who she is and be that, on her own, with no help from others. She has a profound longing in her soul to be known, loved, understood by herself and others. Her “Lady Bird” moniker is one of her many ways of trying to satisfy this lacking sense of being and belonging. Yet, as we see throughout the movie, her attempts to satiate her desire is through molding herself into what others want. She tries to be what different boys want, reading their same books, smoking what they smoke and this is not limited to just boys. Lady Bird does the same thing with girls, trying to be their friend but “hating” what they hate, telling lies about where she lives to seem “cooler” and shunning her actual life. Her search for meaning leads her from one quicksand to the next, continually finding herself drowning in the disappointment of another false identity.
She works to not only define herself through others, but wrestles with this internally. She wants to be good at things she already knows she’s not. There’s a brilliant scene that exemplifies this when she’s talking to one the nun’s, at her Catholic school,
Lady Bird: What I’d really like is to be on Math Olympiad.
The Nun: But math isn’t something you’re terribly strong in.
Lady Bird: That we know of yet.
Of course we already do know she’s dismal at math, since we’ve already seen her in math class and the grade she received proves the nun’s point. Lady Bird, like many of us, seeks to be everything she is not because what she is, seems completely incomplete.
Lady Bird is not the only one with this sense of longing, permeating their lives. Her mother grapples with working double shifts at the hospital in an attempt to keep the family afloat. Her father’s depression has worsened because of his inability to find a job, in an culture that sees him as too old to contribute. Lady Bird’s best friend pines over her teacher who is nice to her, a wishful desire for a father figure that is lacking her life. The film is replete with characters who are aching for something they might not even be able to put a finger on.
The end of the movie beautifully brings all this longing into focus. Lady Bird has gotten her wish to attend college in New York, “…where culture is…”. She’s at a party and starts a conversation with a guy, asks him if he believes in God, to which he says no, because it’s ridiculous and her reply is most interesting. She says, “People go by the names their parents made up for them, but they don’t believe in God.” The next morning, she wakes up on a hospital bed, not remembering how she got there. She leaves and as she walks the streets, asks a man what day it is, he say’s Sunday. She finds her way to a church and as she’s there, you can see the wheels turning in her head. Maybe life is not about being what others want me to be, maybe it’s about being who I was made to be.
To accentuate the point she calls her parents and leaves them a message on the answering machine. She calls herself by her given name Christine for the first time in the movie. She’s dropped all pretense about who she is and begun to accept it. Where she is from, how she was raised, her parents, all of it. It’s a powerful moment.
A bit earlier in the movie, she’s asked her mother if she likes her. Her mother says to her,
Marion McPherson: I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.
Christine McPherson: What if this is the best version?
At the end, Christine accepts who she is, for who she is and it seems that it will actually free her to finally become the best version of herself. She recognizes the name that her parents gave her, which earlier she equated with a belief in God. Maybe she’s realized that the longing to be loved, known and accepted can be fulfilled, if she’ll will take hold of it. She’s been fully known from the beginning of her life. In that conversation with her mother, she wanted her mother to say something nice and her mother ask her, “Do you want me to lie?”. The ugly truth about love is that it does not lie to protect our feelings, it pushes us to see our faults and loves us too much to leave us in them. It’s only by knowing the bad news about who we are that we can be ready to accept the good news. Tim Keller puts it this way,
“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
The more I think about the movie the more I like it and that’s always a good sign. It’s well acted and moving. I highly recommend Lady Bird, it’s rated four and a half out of five stars.