I cry less often at movies than I used to. I’m not sure why, and I never really thought about it until today. This afternoon I went with Lizabeth to see the movie “Precious” at the Harkins Valley Art theatre on Mill Ave. in Tempe.
We’d hoped to hit Mill’s Landing first for some crepes and coffee, but discovered it’s no longer there. We made a Wildflower Bread Company, Changing Hands Bookstore and Hoodlums Music & Movies run instead, waiting for the first showing of “Precious” that afternoon.
“Precious” received plenty of media coverage, but I haven’t paid that much mind. I went into it not knowing what to expect, other than stellar performances all the way around.
If ever there was a “Do your homework first” movie, this is it.
If you’re the parent of a tween or teen and you tend to balk at “R” ratings, assuming your child is plenty mature for such things, this movie might be your line in the sand. It’s the tale of a teenage girl who goes from incest survivor to dignified mother.
The journey is graphic, both verbally and visually.
I didn’t cry during the movie, but tears rained down as the credits rolled. I don’t recall seeing a more powerful piece of cinematic art.
But why review a movie too mature for most readers’ children?
Because “Precious” is a meaningful movie for parents who ponder the relative influence of nature versus nurture, the ways our views of our children become mantras they may or may not live by, and the gifts other adults bring into our children’s lives.
Incest nearly destroys Precious, but it never defines her. She knows she’s more than what others say to her, what they do to her. Call her fat. Call her dumb. Call her every name in the book. She knows there’s more to her story, if only she can summon the courage to tell it.
Precious learns to tell her own truths, to write her own story thanks to a savvy social worker and a teacher at the “alternative school” she attends even as her mother insists she simply get her ‘fat ass down to the welfare.’
The teacher has students make journal entries that get turned in each day—then reads and answers each one with her own entry. The starkest entry comes from Precious: “Why me?”
For Precious and her classmates, writing becomes a talisman of transformation. Eventually Precious earns a literacy award, fueling her resolve to teach her own babies to read and write—things Precious’ own mother despises and derides her for.
Precious leaves her parents’ home after a particularly vicious argument that puts her own life, and that of her newborn son, in peril. Precious moves into a halfway house, a term she finds endearing once someone describes it to her as ‘a place halfway between where you were and where you want to be.’
Precious and her mother meet just once thereafter at the social worker’s office. Here we learn more of the origin and extent of the abuses Precious has endured through the years. The mother’s tale rises to truly tragic proportions as she attempts to justify her actions.
Why, we have to wonder, does one woman settle while another one soars?
Amidst the darker themes, there were lighter lines I savored. When asked her favorite color, one student replies “florescent beige” (Precious says hers is yellow, but I don’t recall her ever wearing the color until a triumphant moment much later in the film.) Walking down the street one day with an apparent air of optimism, we hear Precious thinking out loud: ‘I always look up.’ ‘In case,’ she muses, ‘a piano falls out of the sky.’
Several scenes are particularly gripping—when Precious’ mother insists she eat a plate piled-high with greasy pig’s feet and macaroni and cheese (an attempt to keep her daughter from being desirable); when Precious experiences her first visit to an art museum (part of a school field trip the other students fail to appreciate); when Precious learns her father has been diagnosed with AIDS; when Precious is reunited with her firstborn, a daughter born with Down Syndrome.
It’s far from the world I live in. But much more common, I fear, than any of us want to believe.
If you’re moved, after reading these reflections or seeing the movie yourself, to make a difference in the lives of young women who awake each day to the harsh realities of abuse–or if you, or someone you know, needs help after experiencing sexual assault, you can learn more from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.