Last Saturday, my brother in law opened up his extensive DVD library, and asked us what we wanted to watch. It had been a slightly wistful day playing around in cold rock pools in Devon, which always makes me miss the heat and the colours of Australia.
I wanted mindless entertainment that bore no relation to my life, and certainly not to any themes of nostalgia and loss. So I selected the Swedish version of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – rape and torture are fortunately highly irrelevant to me. It was quickly apparent that this wasn’t really what our host had in mind, and he suggested in no uncertain terms that Up was a great film, and if we didn’t like it we could always go back to watching something else.
It’s an animated kid’s film in which the main action takes place in a jungle, featuring colourful birds and talking dogs. The characters are an ancient old man and a young Boy Scout. So far, so innocuous, but this is all a veneer thrown in to keep the kids happy; the film is actually about ageing, failure, bereavement and loneliness. The first ten minutes or so are a hopelessly depressing portrait of unfulfilled lives: two young people fall in love and get married. She dreams of going to “Paradise Falls” in South America, but they want children first. They then discover they can’t have any, so they start saving up for the big trip instead. Only life keeps getting in the way, and the money is always needed for something else. Finally, when they are both quite old, he buys the tickets and wants to surprise her with them, but she dies without even seeing them. The rest of the film is the story of him getting to Paradise Falls to fulfil her dream after she’s dead.
Of course he succeeds, but nothing takes away from the fact that she did not, that she dies with those childhood dreams of adventure unfulfilled, and indeed with no other dreams realised beyond a happy marriage – which is, admittedly, a very great source of happiness. It wouldn’t be quite so sad if it wasn’t true of almost all the women my grandmother’s age. They never had jobs, never travelled much, never experienced much of the world outside their family life. I’m so sad sometimes when I go to visit her. She is lonely now that she is widowed, but she’s also done as she pleases, and instead of the white wine my grandfather always poured her, she drinks red Cotes du Rhone, which he hated.
My grandmother probably never even considered another life from the one she had with her husband and four children. She loves gardening, and if she did have any dreams, they were probably of bigger gardens where she could grow more raspberries. According to my mother, she wanted to become a doctor, but was prevented from going to university by her father. I don’t really believe this though, as she has never mentioned it.
I think the whole idea of getting to the end of my life and finding something lacking fundamentally terrifies me; so much so that sitting on the sofa always feels slightly sinful, as I’m letting precious time evaporate, while I passively consume some sort of entertainment I’ll forget in give minutes, never mind five years. Go outside, exercise, climb, ride your bike, go for a drive somewhere. Anything to avoid that empty feeling of future regret.