Lady Bird  – The Making Of A Woman Who Named Herself
Human beings on their own, are extremely similar to cities. Constantly trying to grow into something more urbane and tempting to strangers, one brick of expectation on another cemented with the rebounding pain of nostalgia right in between, so bent down by a borrowed culture that if anything feels mildly close to home it is either Christmas or the churches. Metamorphosis is underrated, for people as well as places. That intermediate cocoon stage that a caterpillar is supposed to go through to acquire the wings of a butterfly, is the equivalent of adolescence in a person’s lifetime. When the clock of her emotions starts running forwards and the clock of her innocence starts running backward, it seems to Christine as if the time has stood still. In such a turbulent phase when her breasts have stopped growing but her heart has not, she realizes she is a Sacramento aspiring to be a New York.
In a Californian city, there are qualifications to live up to but in New York, there is a general cohesive feeling of low-grade depression, a consoling sense of solidarity which lets one person’s loneliness sync with another’s and create an atmosphere of emotional harmony. But one faint thought of skepticism clips her wings and holds her back; what if this is her best version? What if this is all there is for her, these deserted lanes typical of a west coast town, this non-aristocratic lifestyle, these receptionist jobs and the apparently insufficient parenthood. In short, the mediocrity of the middle class.
India is one umbrella under the shade of which towns grow like weeds and flowers but in America, cities are synonymous with cultures. “LA is the loneliest and most brutal of American cities; New York gets god-awful cold in the winter but there’s a feeling of wacky comradeship somewhere in some streets. LA is a jungle”, Jack Kerouac would put it succinctly. “The best way to live in California is to be from somewhere else,” alleges Cormac McCarthy in his book, No Country for Old Men. Susan Sontag presents a middle ground by elaborating on how the drinking-dancing-lethargic-never on time and conspicuously poor Southerners are criticized (and envied) by the sincere and white-collared Northerners who consider themselves superior since they would not irresponsibly just take a holiday, just pick up a book and lie down on a hammock on a Tuesday or just make love whenever they get an impulse.
However, away from the reality of city-lights, adulthood and the wisdom that life will eventually teach her in the strangest way possible, Christine closes her eyes in the church and repeats after the priest, “We are afraid we will never be loved”. She is the shadow of her mother, both strong-willed and self-righteous which is why every action by the latter provokes an equal and congruent reaction by the former. The middle class cannot afford to consistently communicate feelings so the dinner conversations at their home are merely a session of disagreements between strangers who live divergently unless they come across each other at unexpected times. Like melancholic moments when Christene discovers her unemployed father’s anti-depressants or when the father meets his own son in an office as a co-applicant for the same job opening, at workplaces and on Thanksgiving, in letters her mother had written to her but was always hesitant to give.
No life is insignificant enough to have nothing to be grateful for, but human beings excel at the art of mentally constructing problems which were never there. A schizophrenic ability that is inbuilt and meant to be lived with(the only thing love cannot cure). Like the outrageous pressure of attending to the pretentious prom culture, or the assumption that the waist size of a cover page model is apparently the ideal size for a woman, or the common belief that wealth (not character) defines your class, or sex needs to be necessarily special on all occasions and especially the myth that one needs to be in a cosmopolitan city to think cosmopolitan. Such are Lady Bird’s woes as opposed to her mother’s, who is mentally so battered down by work-shifts and domestic responsibilities that she forgets to ever take a moment and tell her daughter, that she loves her.
Trapped in someone else’s body, Christine resolves to break the cocoon prematurely at her own discretion. The first revolutionary step is giving a name to herself, by herself. Lady Bird. Like every other woman, she is a contradiction; not embracing the name given to her by her parents but embracing the faith they have passed on as a legacy. Constantly whining about Sacramento being negatively different from Connecticut or New Hampshire (or any other city where the writers live in the woods) but nevertheless subtly confessing her love for the town she grew in, grew into.
Sister Sarah Joan: You clearly love Sacramento.
Lady Bird: I do?
Sister Sarah Joan: You write about Sacramento so affectionately and with such care.
Lady Bird: I was just describing it.
Sister Sarah Joan: Well it comes across as love.
Lady Bird: Sure, I guess I pay attention.
Sister Sarah Joan: Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?
Greta Gerwig makes a point with this conversation. An analogy of the protagonist’s love for her city with her mother’s love for her. The friction between their polarizing viewpoints, the constant overstepping on her self-confidence and the periods of absolute silence between them, all becomes redundant when weighed against the concern, attention and continuous struggle of the parent to nurture her child with whatever she has got. And what else is love indeed, if not attention to the tiniest details of a person?
I ached for moments with Lady Bird in private. To know her, it is a must to observe her in her solitude. Does she ever cry herself to sleep? Can she accept herself physically and do failed relationships leave a dent on her self-respect? Is her belief in herself a blanket to fill up her voids and deficiencies or was she merely a daydreamer, like you and me?We wait for the climax, for the cocoon to break but when it does and the butterfly with her colorful, flamboyant wings emerges, she turns out to be the kind of person who refuses to fly. She does not flutter from garden to garden, smelling roses and tulips and dancing in the wind under the stars, but is strangely calm, stagnant, stuck to the leaf of an unknown plant like a memory stuck to our nostalgic mind, frozen like the light of a star which still hangs in the space for years after its death, like a ladybug in the mood of contemplation, basking in the new discovery of her own self. She was never a Lady Bird; she was a Christine, a lover of cats and lawns and shades of the countryside, a homesick soul lost in a city of people who do not even believe in God, a story of every other girl who will one day realize shame is a social and not natural construct.
Lady Bird makes you go back to the Christine you used to be. To rush back to the town you were born in; to be a girl of sixteen who would hide her face in the daisies her mother grew in the front garden and laugh for no reason when the insects spilled out of them. Who would try to stop the wind with her front teeth, swallow the setting sun, clench the twilight in her fist and reach out for anything that one could take along with them when they leave. In that small forgotten corner of the world you grew up in, the first smoke you had would still be floating somewhere between the clouds in the sky. Breathe it back in. Let it burn you for the last time. Let what made you live, be the reason when you die. And when the dust that had shed off your youthful skin descends to reside over the windows of your skull, do not close your eyes. Let it have your face. Let it be the quilt that you pull over yourself even on summer days. Let it tell you, what it feels like, to not have your own place.