When we left the movie theatre last night, I couldn’t talk for an hour. I love going to films, but they usually don’t hit me in the solar plexus—or should that be soul-er plexus?—the way this one did.
The movie was Crackie, a Canadian production filmed in Newfoundland. Mary Walsh is a natural as the grandmother who messed up parenthood and is struggling to get it right with the granddaughter left in her charge. Selling goods recycled from the dump and serving a regular clientele of men keeps food on the table.
Meghan Greeley is a standout as the awkward teen, Mitsy. She’s a lost soul with plans of becoming a hairdresser on “the Rock” (aka Newfoundland for those living outside Canada). Her first sexual explorations with bar-tending Duffy and the return of the mother who abandoned her throw her into a tailspin. The dog she brings home to fill the holes in her life becomes one more stone in the path. Sparky’s already damaged through Duffy’s neglect, and Mitsy alternately smothers him with love and screams at him in frustration.
Crackie never steps out of the down-at-the-heels neighbourhood, never offers fairy-tale possibilities for the gritty characters. Three generations of women are living out the same sad tale, with only minor variations. Though it ends with a flicker of hope and a gesture of love, the film left me shattered.
During the silent drive home, I reflected on why the story moved me to tears. Pretty simple really. Though my first years were spent in Idaho, far from The Rock, I knew all the characters in the film personally.
Some were families my single mother helped out, families even poorer than we were. Others were neighbours, like the brothers down the street who ended up in prison or the man who drove an axe into our dog’s head or the scary old couple we were all sure were crazy. There was the boy who nearly blinded me with a pellet gun. Then there was the alcoholic cousin and the uncle whose body and spirit were broken by World War II. There was the hard-drinking, chain-smoking aunt who married six times.
They were all on my mind as I drove home, and I wept for them. We’re all damaged by life, but some people’s wounds never heal. Some of them are like Joe Btfsplk, the character in the cartoon strip, Li’l Abner. A rain cloud followed him everywhere, dark symbol of the bad luck he represented.
I think I avoided that fate because of the other characters around me. There were the aunt and uncle old enough to be my grandparents who loved me fiercely. There was the old woman who baked special cookies on Halloween. There was the sharecropper at the end of his block who loaded up his child friends with melons. He’d pile us into his Model-T Ford and drive us to the corner store for pop and penny candy. (He had such a perfect name: Paul Friend.)
They surrounded me with enough love to shield me from the repetitive cycles of despair that wheeled around the dead-end street where I grew up. They assumed the best in me, predicted the best for me. They kept me from getting pulled into the vortex that sucked the characters in Crackie into their own dead ends.
They are the ones I remember most when I think of my Idaho childhood. But the others were there too, the lost, the damaged. Crackie rooted around in my memories. It made me weep for the lost souls. But ultimately it is a movie about resilience. See it if you can.