Thoughts on the film: As Good as it Gets with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt

When I write film reviews it’s not so much about the movie but to discuss a subject regarding relationships which has been touched upon in the movie, in this case it is trying to answer for us the question, why does a man need a woman. Or a woman a man. And isn’t that what we are wondering ourselves, every day?

I’ve seen this movie twenty years ago but today I could observe it with new eyes, now that I actually know what we are all dealing with, day in, day out, frustrated to no end because we simply can’t be happy nor do we know what could make us feel loved.

If you haven’t watched the movie and you don’t want any spoilers, then come back later. Otherwise please feel free to keep reading.

Jack’s character Melvin, a successful writer, seems to be this crazy old man who has no love for anyone nor anything, and manages to insult everyone who dares to talk to him. Even the one person he came to rely upon the most, a beautiful but tired waitress who serves him his lunch every day.

I admire the writers who can portray these amazing character transformations. A quick example.

Remember “Breaking Bad”? An honest, good-hearted and decent husband and father keeps being humiliated by everyone in his life. But the thing that I think breaks him, is when his wife is putting him down. So, one day he breaks. He breaks bad. He breaks so bad that he becomes this absolute badass who has to be truly feared.

So many things depend on how others treat us. I know we want to believe that we are stronger than any outer influence, but the contrary is true. Even when I look at my husband… Yes, he has always been this hero at heart and would always do his best for the people around him but instead of breaking bad (which some would do, turn to alcohol, cheat perhaps, or start cooking and selling drugs), he was about to destroy himself by running himself into the ground.

Everyone has a breaking point for putting up with shit.

Today he stood in the kitchen and smiled. “I have it all…” he said somewhat deep in thought, letting his good fortune present itself in front of his eyes. “I finally have my kids, I have you, I have the car I’ve always wanted (a 20-year-old Mitsubishi which cost us 3000 pounds), the projects, the… This can’t be true. I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop; I’m having it too good.” (I didn’t want to point out that we are barely getting by for the moment, but money doesn’t matter, right? Not when you have the people you love.)

I looked at him, not agreeing at all. “We have both worked very hard these past three years to get here, it didn’t just fall into your lap. And that’s how it is when BOTH are working and pulling in the same direction instead of people just selfishly demanding stuff for themselves.” As was his experience before he met me. He could see my point.

What I wanted to say is, our lives are influenced by our needs and those needs are intertwined with the reactions of other people to us.

And this movie also teases out both main characters, but not just them. Everyone involved evolves.

And this is what we are all hoping for, to evolve. The question remains — how?

What was the main catalyst, that centrepiece, which propelled the whole story forwards in the first place? It’s not a major event actually, it’s a need that has developed over time in a man with severe OCD, who is brilliant yet can’t make even one real human connection. As he lunches at the same restaurant, at the same table, being served by the same waitress, he becomes dependent on the kindness and particular patience this one woman has with him.

Who doesn’t love Helen Hunt? I’ve always envied her graceful stature, the softness she radiates, the authentic femininity, fragile, kind. Of course, her character also has a troubled side. One which could get easily overlooked. In her care of her very ill son, she forgets how to take care of herself and puts up many walls. Something we all do.

How do you dismantle those walls?

Here we are. Carol seems to be so very feminine and approachable and what one doesn’t see or understand are those walls. And Melvin who is an absolute grouch is simply considered crazy, period. And it’s only his act of kindness which makes people around him reconsider who he really is. A kindness which he displays only out of pure selfishness or because he is physically forced to. But it’s a kindness nevertheless.

Both have to deal with that controlling nature which in this case manages to mask her femininity and his adorable masculinity, capable of protecting. Protecting is something Carol really needs as much as Melvin needs her smile. And that’s exactly what he says — how her smile can make your life worthwhile.

What tears those walls down is both their directness but only when paired with vulnerability.

Perhaps it’s not so important to figure out how we can be loved or how to tear down those walls. I mean, of course it’s important, but for me this was not the thing which moved me the most in this movie.

What moved me was the situation in which Carol was stuck with her son. For nine or ten years she has been running to hospitals which wouldn’t help her properly because her insurance didn’t cover certain tests. Simple tests at that. Nowadays I know how the medical system in the USA works and how it has been established in the first place. And my heart goes out to the people there because hundreds of millions of people have to endure bad healthcare for simple things which in Europe would have been dealt with right from the start, mainly for free. That level of poverty and despair… And it has been sold to its citizens as something they should be proud of because you could become a millionaire any day now, even if you’re a dishwasher now. That may have been true a hundred years ago, but now all that’s left is people being stuck in misery or in obscene wealth. Getting out of your circle where you’ve been born is near impossible, a journalist tested it once on herself a couple of years ago.

If it wasn’t for the system as it is though, then we wouldn’t have this touching story of a man being able to be the hero for this wonderful woman, would we? With good medical care from the state, someone like Carol would have been able to have a normal life and meet a normal man. She would actually have her pick.

Change comes about because we need certain people in our lives, whether we like it or not. It’s stronger than us, stronger than our reasoning, stronger than our will.

Hm… Do we need certain people or just certain energies? We reach out for a certain energy or quality, but don’t know what to do with the rest of that person.

Melvin wanted her kindness but didn’t know what to do about Carol’s need for a normal human reaction to her.

When we meet people, how much do we ever actually look at that person? The WHOLE person? Or any part of that person for that matter? How much do we even consider that we HAVE a person in front of us — and how much are we simply only interested in that certain something which feels good for US…which makes us feel alive for a moment or perhaps even gives us a reason to get out of bed or as Melvin puts it, makes him want to be a better man?

I say we rarely do. Mostly we are so self-centred, focused on our own need or misery, that we reach out for people as we reach out for pills without understanding what’s actually in them and what side effects they could have.

And as we reach out selfishly for another person, we simultaneously manage to suck that person dry (of their energy, money, whatever we needed.) Or/and we manage to let someone into our lives who could horribly harm us BECAUSE we haven’t actually tried to look at that person, who he or she is. We just felt we wanted their energy, that they had something we might need, so we reached out for it, without trying to see and get to know that person. By the time we did, it’s often too late and we are invested and stuck with someone who is perhaps abusive. It happened to me several times. But does it matter if we really look or not who the person really is when the need is so great?

We all know it should matter, but when you’re in pain, you just want the pain to stop, you just want to fill that lonely hole or forget something. It’s just how it is. We rarely think of the other — EVEN if what we do is to sacrifice our everything for the other. Don’t think it’s not about you, when you’re playing Miss Nightingale. Of course it is. You want to feel important and rescue someone, so you don’t have to deal with yourself.

Here is something I don’t like to admit about myself. I’m petty. Not all the time nor do I act on my pettiness. But it’s a weakness which I hate and there is absolutely nothing redeemable about it. And mostly I’m petty when I feel I’ve done a lot for someone else and that someone else is being ungrateful. This need to hear someone say “Oh, I couldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for you…” Where does this come from?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I think it comes from my need for attention. As I was growing up, I didn’t get the kind of attention I needed. Instead, I tried to please my mother and others and I prided myself on how I was able to save the day for others, by sheer effort. Mostly it was the money I saved and then gave it all.

This pattern remained. That’s why, when I help my partner now and give my last dime, it’s not a good thing actually, because there are petty moments in which I want to point out, how this life is putting me in a financially dire situation. And this is why I’ve put in our contract that I’m not allowed to point my help out, ever. If I want to give, I give, period. I’m not allowed to lord this over my partner later on.

Of course we’re stronger together and that’s the bitch, isn’t it? Any action we take, usually has two sides to it. There is a true generosity about me. But unfortunately it’s paired with scarcity, and hence my pettiness when it comes to money or helping.

What I wanted to say is — even though it looks like I helped my husband get back on his feet, I can’t say I did this purely for him. There is hardly a truly selfless act. What we do have and what we can rely upon are patterns. Me helping others is a pattern. Usually a pattern with which I distract from myself.

Melvin was full of patterns visibly on the outside, by not being able to step on a line on the pavement or having to lock his door five times. Carol had a pattern but more on the inside, not really able to let anyone close to her and using her son as a shield.

No matter what we do, it’s all always about ourselves.

Unless… Unless someone actually sees us. Accepts us. Admires us.

Carol felt seen in the end. Melvin managed to explain that he doesn’t just need her to feel good about himself, he wanted to be around her because he thought she was the most fantastic person on earth. The way he described her, she understood that he really saw her and that her existence alone was enough to make him happy.

There is nothing wrong in needing each other, even taking — taking what is freely given! Actually, it’s really important to be able to accept love. It’s the most vulnerable thing we can do.

Needing is fine. But to make sure we actually see each other, is even better.

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