Margaret (2011)
March 20, 2017 6:39 AM - Subscribe

A young woman witnesses a bus accident, and is caught up in the aftermath, where the question of whether or not it was intentional affects many people's lives.

So this is not a plot-driven movie at all, and what happens is: a teenage girl witnesses an accident that she partly contributed to. She struggles to come to terms with it and find the right way of responding in the aftermath. She has to grapple with these things largely without benefit of adult guidance, as the adults she turns to run the gamut of flinching, to urging with varying degrees of cynicism that she compromise.

The film is "over"long (it kept me watching, so as far as I'm concerned it can be as long as it likes considering the pause button exists, but I know that's not a widely shared opinion) and is a deep dive into the subjectivity of a teenage girl, rather than something that fits into any expected commercial movie format.
posted by tel3path (5 comments total)
So this is one of those movies that I liked and everyone else hates, probably including you guys, but the reasons why are very interesting to me.

The main reason I liked it was because it kept me watching up until the end. I found it watchable and compelling, instead of boring. If a movie can keep me watching for that long, I figure it must have something.

A lot of the reactions I've read have complained that the subjectivity of an overprivileged teenager is a repellent theme for a movie. It's a point of view that is lampshaded by the main character (who is called Lisa, not Margaret, you'll have to wait for the middle of the movie to find out who Margaret is).

My opinion is that teenage girls are quite a reviled demographic and that the main character herself has internalized this misogynistic prejudice, whereas director/writer Kenneth Lonergan has to be disagreeing with that opinion by definition because he made an overlong movie about exactly that. And it seems to be a normal reaction that traumas that would be respected as significant for an adult, at least by some people, are treated with absolute scorn if they happen to a teenager.

Likewise, complaints that Lisa is driven by a need for drama/conflict, or that she's "unlikeable/unsympathetic". My immediate reaction is to disagree with both those things. A need for drama/conflict is difficult to disprove, but I tend to take her struggle for some kind of justice at face value. Likewise, I personally never stopped liking or sympathizing with Lisa. Whereas, if she had been 30 instead of 17, I would probably have agreed that she's just a drama queen using "justice" as an excuse for histrionics, and not sympathized with her as much. Because she *is* 17, I thought she was behaving in a manner consistent with her age, including the bad decisions.

A big thing about this film is that Lisa's subjective experience is disparaged by everyone, including herself at first. She becomes more and more insistent on her own right to have a point of view. And I thought she was right to. She also tries her best to get some form of justice, instead of going straight to compromise as everyone is pressuring her to do. Throughout, she continues to seek but never quite find a level of intimacy and connection that is intrinsically difficult and that society for the most part discourages in our times.

The movie progresses through a series of incidents where Lisa and others around her play fast-and-loose with life and death and finally (not to spoil it) both at once. At one point she makes a half-hearted plea with her mother to force her to make a choice.

The ending is inconclusive, which may or may not be a good choice. Personally I didn't mind it, as one of the most frustrating things about traumatic situations is the lack of a conclusive ending; I guess you could accuse the movie of the fallacy of imitation, but it didn't really bother me. It does seem like Lisa has learned to compromise, and it's not clear whether that is or is not a good thing.

Anyway, that's what I liked about this movie and why I liked that, but everyone please hate away (or not). I'm curious to see your reactions.
posted by tel3path at 7:00 AM on March 20, 2017

My wife and I were one of the very few people who actually saw this movie in the theater when it played for one week at, I think, Film Forum in NYC. I thought it was a masterpiece. Anna Paquin's performance was searing and, as expected, Kenneth Lonergan's dialogue carried great emotional weight. I know the final edit had a tortured history, but I wouldn't have known that just by watching the film.
posted by Falconetti at 10:11 AM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I like the way the mother eventually starts to get an uncomfortable feeling of disconnectedness and tries to work it out with her boyfriend. And she wants to talk it through, and he just doesn't see the need for that. She is so awkward all the way through, and they clearly are not understanding each other at all.

And then later she finds out through his son, that the boyfriend thought they had this wonderful connection.

I mean... assuming he wasn't lying to the son, I can get that he maybe saw "connection" as a matter of resonating on the same frequency, rather than knowing facts about each other. But he doesn't even seem to know that his gf doesn't feel like they're resonating on the same frequency, even though her discomfort is palpable in every scene she has with him.

And in the end it turns out that the bf was also apparently Jewish and they didn't even know that about him!

And then the mom decides to try to grope towards a closer connection with Lisa, and Lisa coldly and consciously rejects that because she's "learned" to be harder and more closed off.

I mean clearly the mom character has her faults and is self-absorbed very much of the time, but man, at that point I would start to wonder if something was fundamentally wrong with my ability to understand the people around me.
posted by tel3path at 12:48 PM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I saw it when it came out too and thought that the mother's SO should have been cut.
posted by brujita at 12:09 AM on March 21, 2017

I wouldn't say that. I think he's relevant for the fact that even when people are groping towards some kind of intimacy, it's hard for them to attain it.

I was going to refrain from overcommenting proportionate to the responses, but I've had this on my mind since yesterday. There's such a clear through-line between the bus driver's not paying attention to the road, all the way through to the ending where Lisa announces her abortion to her teacher.

A lot of people were annoyed because they thought the entire way Lisa reacts to the accident was wrong and overblown. Noticeably, Lisa herself tries to seek refuge in accepted social scripts and go out as normal, and remind herself that the accident didn't happen to her. But it turns out she can't go on as normal.

And then she turns away from her openly emotional suitor (who she maybe doesn't really fancy all that much) and seeks refuge in Ironic Detachment Boy, only to find that he is careless of matters of life and death much as the bus driver was (and yeah, Lisa is again partly responsible for not being more vigilant sooner about condom use, but she's not the only one at fault for that accident either).

And then when it turns out that the bus driver is denying all responsibility for the accident (which he's going to be regardless of whether he actually feels remorse, because he's protecting himself from institutional punishment, but Lisa doesn't understand that) she tries to get him fired from being a bus driver, and his prior record suggests that she's right about this, but he has another kind of institutional support through personal connection to his union. There are a lot of objections I've read that Lisa wants to blame everyone but herself, yet when the police detective asks "and what should I do with *you*" she replies "do whatever you want!" because she's recklessly yet bravely putting herself out there to face the legal consequences. I'm dead sure she doesn't understand the implications of what she's saying; by definition, she says it not knowing what will happen to her. But she is thinking in terms of jail time and probably expects that she might go to jail, regardless that she underestimates how hard that will be. She is then shocked to learn that an accident does not equal a criminal offense. If that moment weren't there in the dialogue, I'd think there was a lot stronger case for Lisa being a mere drama queen, but it is in there.

So I have to think of Lisa as someone who is desperately trying to insist that matters of life and death are *not* to be treated indifferently. As annoying as many viewers find her, how is it not annoying that so many of the adults in charge are ready to give up so relatively easily? It's admirable that Lisa doesn't give up until she's tried everything, and she does get very close to the outcome she wants.

But then it turns out that it was all for nothing because the bus driver continues to drive, and a relative who to all appearances is undeserving, gets a six-figure settlement all because of Lisa's efforts. So of course she thinks it's in vain.

The reason she was distracting the driver was because she wanted to find out where he got his cowboy hat, because she wanted one for her upcoming horseriding trip with her dad. I guess you could say that's a shallow thing, but you'd have to be ignoring the context of her longing to see her Dad and spend time with him. And then at the last moment, her dad calls off the trip because his new wife is jealous and he doesn't want any inconvenience for himself. If this is the kind of guy he is, no wonder she was pinning a lot of excitement and longing on that trip. So then even that foolish mission - to buy a cowboy hat for her trip - turns out to be completely in vain.

And then she seduces her teacher, an adult who should know better, and rather predictably she then needs an abortion which is probably what she intended whether consciously or not. Repeating the trauma in another form. And she goes in emotional and vulnerable but leaves him with a contemptuous scolding about placing too much emotional value on mere sex. So she's successfully? managed to treat life and death with the same indifference that everyone around her insists is right. And then she runs up to her teacher and announces that she got an abortion and that it cost $400, because she's learned that life and death matters if you can put a pricetag on it. And she goes into the conversation like TRUTH EMERGING FROM HER WELL TO SHAME MANKIND but then realizes she doesn't want to deal with opening that can of worms, so she backs off and never outs her teacher as the one what done it.

And then that night at the opera she cries because she knows the "lessons" the world wants to teach her are not right, but she can't do anything about it.

Like I said, I just do not get how anyone can think any of this is incoherent or that the central character is unsympathetic. Of course she's immature and blind to her own faults, but that's what teenagers are *supposed* to be like. I think she shows a lot of moral courage throughout, certainly more than the adults around her are displaying.

The character's age does matter very much to me in my assessment of her. I feel like she is an alternate, younger version of the Alana Bloom character in Hannibal, about whom I also had strong opinions which were sort of contrarian to the trend: generally people thought Alana Bloom was perfect and an angel and they think Lisa is an obnoxious self-centered yelling teenager. The two characters resemble each other pretty strongly but because Alana Bloom is twice Lisa's age, and has far more institutional power than Lisa does combined with far less follow-through (in S1/S2 that is), I find (S1/S2) Alana much less sympathetic than most viewers do, and I apparently find Lisa much *more* sympathetic than most viewers do.
posted by tel3path at 7:50 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

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