Friday, June 11, 2010

Julie and Julia

My husband and I recently watched the film Julie and Julia. We saw it on a whim. Initially, it hadn’t really interested either of us, perhaps because we don’t enjoy cooking. We would never dream of trying to cook something complicated from a Julia Child cookbook! Nonetheless, we found the film charming and quite enjoyable. (OK, maybe “we” is an overstatement. I at least found it charming and enjoyable. But I am happy to report my husband did not fall asleep until the closing credits began to roll.)

For purposes of this blog, I thought there were a couple of themes in the film worth noting. First, with respect to the role of women in our society and a follow-up to my recent posts on feminism, it was interesting to me that Julie and Julia was essentially about a young woman in desperate need of a positive role model and a mentor. The protagonist, Julie, was on the verge of turning 30, and her life seemed to have no real direction. She had a job, but no career. She wasn’t sure what to do with her life. The women in her life were not supportive of her, and they did not provide role models she wanted to emulate. Her mother was perennially disapproving and nagged her relentlessly. Her female “friends” were competitive, career-driven and self-obsessed. They constantly put her down and/or used her. In the film, Julie ends up turning to someone she doesn’t even know, Julia Child, for inspiration and guidance. She reads extensively about Julia’s life, and grows to admire her deeply. Julie writes a blog as she works her way through Julia’s cookbook. Even outside of the kitchen, as Julie encounters difficulties in her life, she begins to look to Julia as a role model. Personally, I found this a little sad because Julie did not even know her role model, and in the end she was trying to emulate someone to whom she ultimately attributed unrealistic, superhuman qualities.

In watching the film, it just struck me how tough it is to be an American woman in the twenty-first century. We’re still in the midst of great societal change in terms of the permissible roles for women. It is pretty confusing. And frankly many of us could use good mentors and role models to help us navigate the challenges. However, it often seems like few of us have really figured things out, and there are not a lot of mentors and role models to help lead the way. Although I personally cannot imagine trying to emulate a culinary expert, I can certainly relate to Julie’s struggles. I haven’t had many female role models who have successfully balanced a happy home life with a demanding career. And I’ve felt uncomfortable and ill-equipped when other women (e.g., junior attorneys when I was in practice, students now that I’m a professor) have looked to me for a silver bullet. I’ve done my best to mentor and give guidance when younger women have sought that from me. But perhaps like others in that situation, I have felt a bit like a fraud because I certainly don’t have it all figure out myself.

Another aspect of Julie and Julia that I wanted to mention involved some of the cultural war issues I’ve raised in previous blog posts. The plots of Hollywood films tend to involve couples at the early stages of a relationship—when they are falling in love and coming together. It is a standard approach that has been followed since the early days of movie making. Very rarely does a film involve a couple that has been married for a while unless they are in serious conflict and potentially breaking up. Occasionally, movies might show a long-married couple with kids, but in those films the married couple normally has just a parenthetical role in a plot that really revolves around the kids. It is rare in Hollywood films to see a story focus on a married couple, who are basically happy and in a long-term stable relationship. Julie and Julia is such a rare film. The protagonist, Julie, is married to a great guy. They love each other, enjoy spending time together, and are basically supportive of one another. They are not perfect, they have conflicts, but the film shows them working them out in a pretty healthy way and being committed to their marriage. Similarly, Julia Child is portrayed in the film as being in a passionate, supportive relationship with her husband. It is odd, but I cannot remember the last film I saw with such positive, realistic examples of marriage. I’m not sure why that is.

Mark 10:7-9 (New International Version)

'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

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