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I’m an inveterate independent. I enjoy films such as FINDING YOUR FEET or THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL in which the leading lady creates a more fulfilling life for herself. In both of these movies, the wife is forced to redefine herself before she can find honest love. In the first, she finally comprehends she has been a function to her husband for years and gradually adjusts to the divorce initiated by him. She rediscovers herself in her new freedom. In the second, the widow has no choice but to make new connections in the foreign world she can afford. I’m guessing many British housewives eventually realize they’ve been living an unfulfilling existence in their tidy row homes, because the Brits have produced several highly successful, canny comedies with the same underlying theme.
But what is independence if it’s also an expression of disdain for consideration? (Spoiler alert!) When I watched the American film PUZZLE in which the wife eventually walks out on both her family and her puzzle competition partner, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth. Agnes (the leading character) convinces her husband to sell the family fishing cabin, his greatest joy, before she abruptly leaves. Supposedly, her husband is left with a business that’s failing and two grown boys using the profits from his cabin to pursue futures that don’t include him. He has been an attentive if not entirely sensitive husband throughout their marriage—a marriage she willingly embraced for many years. She bears some responsibility for being the person she has been. To my mind, he doesn’t deserve his cruel fate.
Meanwhile, Agnes and her puzzle partner come together out of a mutual talent for piecing together jigsaw puzzles. They work hard to become a competitive team, beginning an intimate relationship at the same time Agnes emerges from the shell of her role as a wife and mother. They finally qualify to compete in a world championship, her partner’s dream, and Agnes exits. She takes a train to Montreal because she has wanted to go there for years. Why she must go at the same time the international competition is happening and couldn’t wait a week, I don’t know. To make matters worse, her partner was in the process of healing from the wounds of his own painful divorce. He was vulnerable. She doesn’t seem to care enough to ease the separation from him. Again, Agnes’s independence comes at the expense of another.
In an age of classic put-downs, I suppose many audience members applaud a woman who’s willing to disregard the needs of those around her to indulge her wishes. Personally, I think I see the same sort of misunderstanding many have of the word “feminism.” Instead of being an expression of the equality of the sexes, many scoff at what they see as women trying to act like men at the expense of home and family. A feminist can certainly run a happy family if she chooses, and an independent woman can follow her own dreams without damaging the dreams of those around her. Women can use their powers of cooperation and communication to multitask—which, by the way, they are generally better at doing than men are. Our compassion is a strength, not a weakness, if we use it well.