Home Again works as a feel good movie, but not as a moral one. A product of our culture, it celebrates the idea of happiness without any concern for righteousness. I don’t just want to toss the baby out with the bathwater, however, so let’s take a closer look at what’s in the tub, if you will.
Let’s start with what makes it appealing. In many ways, it’s honest about how complicated and messy life, particularly relationships, can be. Alice and her husband are separated. She moves back into her Dad’s house in Los Angeles. She has a habit of letting herself get a little crazy on her birthday, and her 40th is certainly no exception. She meets 3 younger men (in their 20’s) while out on the town who end up moving into her guest house for a while.
Let’s suspend the criticism about “what mom with young girls would let strange men move into her home.” That’s a valid question, but let’s just assume, as things sometimes go, that she just knew she could trust them and accept the world presented to us in the story. The guys each bring something to the family dynamic, offering practical and emotional help and encouragement to Alice and her daughters. They create the most beautiful “village”—a community of love and support and good-will. It’s so appealing. It’s why shows like Friends and Hawaii Five-0 are such hits. There’s this beautiful sense of love and living in a family community that we make for ourselves that we all, deep-down, long for.
Add to that, Alice is very emotionally relatable. She’s wounded and vulnerable and raw, but also strong and independent. She’s kind and caring but not a pushover. She’s OK on her own, but willing to accept help when it’s offered. When a suave young man, Harry, puts the moves on, frankly I’m torn. So is she. It’s flattering, but she’s better than that—she doesn’t just need someone to make her feel good. And yet, she’s human and she’s lonely and she’s struggling in her marriage (they’re separated because her husband has neglected her). So we see her wrestling with herself over Harry. Common sense says he’s too young. Her heart, however, says he’s paying attention to her.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, this isn’t a moral movie. Alice never questions if there is anything “right or wrong” about having an affair with Harry. She only wonders if it feels good, and if it’s going to hurt her in the end. So she does. She has an affair with Harry. One that she later says helped her feel better about herself and helped her move on in life. (THIS is what I really don’t like about the movie – the utter lack of righteous thinking and/or consequences. They celebrate her affair with Harry as being a good and useful thing in her life.) I kind of want to crucify her for her weakness in this, but if you take the sex out of it, I actually relate to her more than I care to admit.
He made her feel seen and special in a time when she felt completely overlooked. Maybe she was weak to allow him into her life like she did (especially at a physical level) but maybe emotionally she was brave to be so vulnerable, hopeful and willing to trust. The moment he failed her, and he did, she shut down—like so many of us do. She was annoyed at herself for not knowing better. She felt stupid for putting her heart out there for someone to hurt again, especially someone so young. She had a pattern that is common to most of us—she put herself out there in a daring risk of the heart, then shut down and reeled herself back into control at the first sign of danger. All exposed with no common sense, and then all controlled and contained. One extreme to the next. If I’m honest, I get her.
I’ve struggled to write about this movie. What do we do with this? What do we do with the longing for that sense of beautiful community and laughter and goodwill she had? What do we do with her marriage? I mean, he wasn’t sleeping around on her or abusive. In fact, he was generally kind and caring, and yet, there was something grating about him and sadly, you aren’t sure you want her to work it out with him. But shouldn’t we? I don’t like it when I am hoping for someone to leave their spouse in a movie, when I am pulling for divorce… especially when I’m pulling for divorce when there’s no good reason for it other than “happiness.” This is my huge struggle with this movie. It doesn’t make you want morality or righteousness. It feels good and make you want happiness, even if you have to sacrifice God’s standards for right living to get it. The connection she shares with Harry makes you, the watcher, feel good inside. It should make you feel dirty.
So, I’ve tried to ask myself, as I’ve wrestled with why I liked the movie, what is it that this story touches in me? What is it about Alice and her journey that strikes a chord in me? What am I longing for? What is it that makes me happy about this? (Because happiness isn’t a bad thing, at all, it just needs to be subjected to righteousness, not the other way around.) Then I ask myself, how can I bring those things to God? How can I let God meet my needs for community, connection, love, affection, etc.? How did she meet those needs? What might be the realistic consequences of her actions? In other words, I try to understand my heart’s response to what I watch, and I try to separate the chaff from the wheat.
And frankly, I pray about it. I ask God to help me see things with HIS eyes. We are so inundated with the message of happiness that it becomes an idol in our lives. We let happiness dictate our actions, when we ought to let the pursuit of God and His righteousness dictate our actions. We’re so used to it we don’t even realize it. We see a story like this and we just “like” it. It “makes us happy” so we look past the little bit of awkward uncomfortableness we have niggling at our conscience when she goes to bed with Harry. It’s not us, after all, so we just watch and enjoy the story. We aren’t having the affair; that would be wrong. Not to mention, we are more uncomfortable with the fact that he’s too young (and therefore maybe not a responsible, long-lasting choice for her) than we are with the fact that she’s both having sex outside of marriage, and that she is still married to someone else. Ugh. So I pray that I would not get calloused to sin just because it’s dressed in a happy, appealing package. Lord, let me see what you see. Let me love righteousness, even in the stories I watch. And let me be willing to set aside my pursuit of happiness and instead embrace the hands of sorrow and suffering if you think I need them more.