Push, Precious, Just PUSH
I walked into “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire”(2009), directed by Lee Daniels, with a mixture of emotions: anticipation for all the positive reactions I’ve been hearing, and apprehension for the sheer amount of “buzz” the film has riled up.
I walked out of “Precious” feeling a mixture of emotions, again. Guilt, for inexplictedly finding myself laughing outloud during so many moments of the film. Angst, for the uncontrollable whimpers that escaped my throat during so many moments of the film. And confusion and anger, for not knowing how to reconcile the two, and how to go on feeling.
There are two ways to look at this. One, that the film was so shattered and distracted that it failed to deliver its central message. Or the other, that the film was so sure of itself, and so unflinching in its delivery of its vision, that it just blew through you, and it takes a while for you to grasp onto something and steady youself.
I will honestly admit that as I left the theatre, I was trembling and convinced that the film somehow failed me. How dare it jerk me around like some kind of toy dummy! I fumed. There were scenes where Precious, an obese, poor, shy, illiterate, beaten, abused and defeated girl, is being violated in ways that I could not have imagined. She was pushed down, slammed into the ground, the walls, the bed, the stairs, again and again, by her father, her mother, by strangers she didn’t even know. Then in a split second the scene would cut to a completely opposite world where she lives out her fantasies of safety and happiness and glamour, like any other young girl. Precious would twirl and swirl, shimmering in satins and velvets and glowing with joy and silliness, and I couldn’t help but grin with her. And then in a flash we are back to the cold apartment, the cold floor, bed, staircase, dirty kitchen, the hate. Then again. Back and forth. Sad and happy. Despair and hope. Tears and Laughters. Back and forth. Back and forth. This happens repeatedly throughout the film, and it utterly wrecked me.
Now, a day later, the wave of emotions within me has calmed slightly…and I have not been able to forget about Precious. What I have been able to do, however, is to recognize the power of the delivery of this film, and to realize how deeply it shook me. I was angry not because of how bad it was, but because of how badly I allowed it to get to me, and how deeply I somehow let it in. When Precious was on the ground, I was there with her. When she walked through the door of her apartment for the first time holding her son, I was right beside her. When she hesitated a brief second before handing her son to Mary, I wanted to jump in between them. When she ran down the stairs and fell, I almost leapt out of my seat to catch her. And when Mary pushed that TV off the railing….I froze. I just froze.
Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe, who plays Precious and carries the film, is surprising everyone, including me. She has been touted as the great new breakthrough actress, a natural. I knew this before going in, but I didn’t realize how good she was until I saw her after the film. When she first appeared on screen, she was so fearful and shut-off, yet sparkling with an uncommon wit and a tough survival instinct, that I just wanted her to be ok. I didn’t think about the way she looked at her mother day in and day out or the way she held her babies or the way tears were rolling down her cheeks. I just saw a resoluted girl. I just saw Precious. When you see Gabby in interviews, a whole new persona emerges. Her same, round face is confidant and calm, not a trace of fear. She is upbeat and well-spoken, and the only commonality with Precious is the streak of wit, which shines through in both.
The entire cast is stellar here, but Mo’Nique deserves a special mention. She caught me breathless. She was so, so real in her role as a cruel, god-forsaken mother who is all but hardened into a rock of selfish instincts, that I had to re-learn how to love her in interviews afterwards. That last scene in the counsellor’s office, when she gave her explanation of what happened, and her reasons for why it happened, and her desire for what she wants to happen, and I found it impossible to hate her. She was only human, even if her humanity has somehow lost her.
Aside from the overall theme of struggle and hope, Precious the film, for me, comes down to the power of words. The power of education. Precious was pelted with blows all her life, many in the form of words. Her own mother called her worthless. Reckless teenagers shouted slurs of insults, and those words kept her down to the ground she was forced to. It wasn’t until she met Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) and Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey) that she learned to write and speak her own thoughts. Through words, Precious learned the way to communicate her desires, fears, and hopes. Through words, and not fists, Precious was armed with the tool to show and convict others of her worth. Through words, she found the courage to climb out of the darkness within herself, and open up to the light of the world. Through words, Precious pushed through the fight.
There are many more moments in this film that made me gasp, shift in my seat, and tremble. Afterwards, I looked down and saw deep nail marks in my palms. Precious cut into me and I felt every slice. The pain is negligible though, when compared to what she went through. I don’t have personal experiences that exactly parallel hers, and for that I am lucky. But how many people have? And how dare we allow it to happen? And what can we do? We can open our eyes, for starters. A friend turned to me as we were walking down the damp, cold street toward home after the show and said: “It’s just so…ugly.” He’s right. It is. The truth is seldomly pretty. But we should not, and we can not, avert our gazes. For if we do, we are no better than the ugliness that we fear.
As the last scene faded to black, a single line of red letters flashed across the screen: “For Precious Girls Everywhere.” I involuntarily leaned forward in my seat and reached out a clenched hand, as if to touch it…but the words faded just as quickly into nothingness, and the lights came up. That’s how I feel about this film. There is nothing more to say. I don’t know exactly what I was reaching for, and I am utterly out of words. But I am comforted to know, though, that Precious has found hers, that she will be reading at high school level next year, and maybe the year after that reading to her children. I look forward to that. And I am hopeful.
“I can sing some of Hey Big Spender. Hey Big Spender…[laughs]…give me some money for a movie…[laugh]…spend a little time with me, you will.” – Lee Daniels
(I like him already)