Canyon Lady

In the theme of order and chaos I've been watching one of my favorite films, Laurel Canyon, directed by Lisa Cholodenko.

It is the story of a rigid and controlled young man, Sam and his "perfect match" brilliant and overachieving fiancee, Alex. As they stay in LA for a summer, they live in Laurel Canyon with Sam's free spirited and very rock and roll mother, Jane. Jane is running behind, both in getting her current record produced and also in dealing her much younger lover, rock and roll god, Ian.

The film is beautifully shot and directed, the acting truly brilliant. Frances McDormand is particularly inspiring in her role, showing the audience her passion and exhaustion usually in the same scene. The rest of the cast uses the spaces between bodies, physical acting, and exquisitely subtle facial reactions to transmit many levels of tension and anxiety as they all are searching and yearning for love, lust and acceptance.

I've seen this film at least 10 times since 2004 and each time I view it, I come away with an entirely different level of understanding on the complex relationships.

I suppose on first viewing, I probably was mostly affected by the tenstions between Sam and Alex, their desire waning for each other and the sexual and creative awakening that occurs in each of them as they develop feelings for other people.

But watching it over the years, it is clear to me that the story hinges on the exceptionally tense mother/son relationship between Sam and Jane. Both love each other, both desperately desire to be truly seen by the other, neither one can accept the way the love is given, or accept that what they see in each other is connected back to the self. Jane wants Sam to loosen up. Sam wants Jane to pull it together and quit embarassing him. They are two bulls in a china shop of emotions and each scene culminates with a floor covererd in shards. They work out their relationship with each other, through others.

Alex is Sam's refuge, she is controlled, rigid, focused. But she's ultimately not satisfied with Sam and is drawn both to the Dioysian Ian, and to Jane. Sam works with a woman, Sara, who is, in many ways, much like his mother; passionate, wild, free. Given his penchant for rational, rigid living, he tries to sublimate his feelings for Sara, even suggesting she do that too, and she answers him by saying, wisely, "I can't control my heart. I wouldn't want to, even if I could."

The complex mother/son relationship is so beautiful acted and filmed that it always leaves me feeling deeply emotional. The final scene between Sam and Jane, at the pool, fingers and toes entwined, water and earth, sadness and hope....I wish Frances McDormand could have received an Oscar just for those 30 seconds.

It is an amazing film and one that has been a key influence in my development as an older woman, a parent, and a person.