Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Shoulder Punching, Obscenities and Cancer

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianityby Ben Howard

The film 50/50 focuses on a young 20-something named Will Reiser (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and his struggle with cancer and how it changes his everyday life and his view on friends, love and family. It’s easy to focus on the main character of this movie, he’s the hero, he’s the one who overcomes cancer, but I’m more intrigued by the supporting characters and what they show us about how to treat people going through devastating moments in their lives. In particular, I want to focus on Will’s girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) and his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen).

Our natural instinct in a situation like this, a tragedy in the life of a friend, is to play the role of the savior. We swallow our pain and assert our strong stoic exterior. Often it feels like their pain is more important than ours and as a result we no longer express our emotions in a truthful way.   

This is the tack taken by Rachael. Will offers her an opportunity to leave the relationship, but she can’t take it even though later events will make it obvious that she wants to go. This is natural, we don’t want to leave because we want to be the kind of person who can withstand the trauma and the heartache of a tragedy. We want to be the kind of people who can be relied on. We have to be strong, and strong people don’t crack, they don’t break. Until they do.

Eventually, Will discovers that Rachael has been cheating on him and breaks up with her. She vents because he doesn’t understand how difficult it’s been for her. She’s right and he doesn’t, but it’s because she would not allow it. We don’t do those we love any favors when we pretend to have strength we don’t have and pretend we don’t feel things that we really do. Honesty and authenticity are vital.

On the other hand we have Kyle. At points in the movie, Kyle comes across as an immature child and a miserable excuse for a best friend. However, the movie comes to affirm that this is kind of the point.  Kyle IS an immature child, and at times he IS a miserable excuse for a best friend, and he treats Will the exact same regardless of his illness. He treats Will like a person instead of a disease. Sean Burns of the Philadelphia Weekly wrote that Kyle’s, “fundamental, unexpected decency, which can often only be expressed through shoulder-punching obscenities, grows more quietly moving as the picture wears on.”

He isn’t perfect and he often acts out of his own selfish reasoning, but he doesn’t change who he is. Near the end of the movie, we discover that Kyle’s character has been reading a book about supporting a friend going throw cancer, in a quick shot of the book we realize that one of the passages underlined simply says, “Be There.”

I think this is at the crux of dealing with tragedy and dealing with pain. We want to fix things so badly, we want to make things better, we want to provide comfort and explanations when there are none available, but the more I think about it the more I believe that we just need to be there even if that’s just shoulder-punching and obscenities.


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1 comment:

  1. Very well-said. One can also yell, "This is TERRIBLE!' Sometimes that's nice too :). Thank you for sharing this.