I enjoyed the movie Lady Bird, yet, when it was over I had this question in my head – why was that good? Hardly anything happened. She wanted to go to school in New York but she didn’t do anything but apply. In the mean time she had a pretty normal high school experience. It didn’t focus on her goal and place bigger and bigger challenges in her path, like a hero, or heroine, story does.
Then it hit me. The story worked because it is about knowing yourself and being yourself despite what other people believe about you. It is an internal journey to individuate. This is such an important journey. It’s about awakening to the understanding that we can decide who we are and what we believe, and live beside people who sees things differently. Ironically, only when we know ourselves as an individual can connect with people who are different. Lady Bird shows us how to do that.
(Spoiler alert) Lady Bird’s mother, Mom, had a mother that was an abusive alcoholic. We can only imagine the emotionally and possibly physically dangerous situations Mom lived through (flash to I, Tanya). Mom accepted the evils of selfishness, and the importance of brutal honesty to avoid triggering her mother’s anger. Or maybe she did it to hold onto the belief that this behaviour was a form of love. As a girl this kind of made sense. The problem was, Mom didn’t re-examine her beliefs when she became a mom and ended up passing on a part of the damaging behaviour she inherited from her mother. Lady Bird’s mother didn’t individuate, which meant Lady Bird inherited her burden. A classic tale.
I love the scene where Lady Bird and Mom are fighting and then they find the perfect Thanksgiving dress and we see the loving connection they share. How do you individuate and keep that love? That is the major question of this movie. Lady Bird is disarmingly authentic but she keeps clashing with Mom, hoping for permission to be herself.
We don’t know what Lady Bird will be when she grows up, but we hope she will learn she has the power to choose. This is an insight Lady Bird offers – the journey to know yourself is not linear. Only heroes pick a career and drive towards it. This is a Virgin journey. The path forward is to feel your feelings and respond to them authentically. It is rambling path, but the internal growth through the experiences is profound.
Lady Bird shows us how to create a Secret World and populate it with people who love and care for us. Following a dream is a vulnerable position to be in. Having the voice of reason or a critical eye in that world is self-abuse. Reason stops being relevant at the boundary of the known and finding your talent is a trip into the unknown.
We see the back and forth movement between her two worlds as Lady Bird explores her ability to fit in with the cool kids and her places of authentic connection with her father and best friend. It’s not a straight line. She learns from her inauthentic behaviour why she so needs to be authentic.
In the scene in the car, where her cool boyfriend decides to blow off prom., Lady Bird goes along until he also hates her music. In that moment Lady Bird awakens to the cost of being inauthentic – the loss of self. She kindly asks to be dropped off at her true friend’s house. This scene is in sharp contrast to the time Lady Bird is driving with Mom, and Mom rejects her music so she jumps out of the moving car. Lady Bird becomes a victim in an effort to make her mom change. It’s as if Lady Bird needed her outside world to be in alignment with her inside world – she couldn’t hold a separate opinion from Mom’s. Now, on the way to prom, she didn’t need to demonise the cool kids. They are on their path. She politely recognises that her path is different and wished them well on theirs.
Lady Bird is full of these insightful moments on the path to knowing herself and being herself, separate from what others expect. This is the challenge of living with people and being different from them. It requires an awaking to our personal power to choose who we are and what we believe. At the end of the movie, Lady Bird experiences New York culture and knows she is where she needs to be. She calls her parents as Christina, because she knows who she is. She can afford to let other people in and be different from them, and appreciate them. Lady Bird remains herself and relates to Mom by describing that shared moment where they both are behind the wheel and feel their empowerment. She uses the name her parents gave her because she has made space for her sense of self and her love of family. She feels whole.
Hear more from Kim Hudson at her weekend course Personal Growth Screenwriting Masterclass.