Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Phone Call

One of the consequences of having suffered the death of a loved one (my husband of 34 years died three months ago) is the people around you get a little nervous. They are afraid of reminding you of your loss (as if there’s any chance you’ll forget), or of exposing you to something that will make your broken heart bleed anew.

This happened to me this weekend, when I was at a friend’s house. For some time she has wanted to share some of this years’ Oscar-nominated short films with me, and this night we settled in to watch her favorite, ‘The Phone Call.’ It quickly became apparent that the film is about a man who is in despair over his wife’s death, and my friend hit the pause button, horrified, and apologized for her thoughtlessness. I replied that not only do I not want people to censor themselves around me, I also have to get past any reluctance to see or read about people encountering death, because that is one of the great themes of art and literature.

In fact, I have found that art provides one of the best solaces for grief (being outdoors is another). And I am not alone in this. I’ve read a few ‘grief memoirs’ recently and every person has said that poetry helped them cope.

If you haven’t seen ‘The Phone Call,’ I’m going to give some spoilers so you might want to stop reading now until you’ve seen this beautiful film. Here's the trailer:

It’s about a young woman who works in a crisis center. In the first few minutes the filmmakers skillfully let you know that she’s an emotional, socially awkward, probably lonely person. The crisis center is a large room with about a dozen desks; all of them are empty except for one where a young man sits, on the phone. When she enters they wave at each other, awkwardly, and it’s clear they want to connect but don’t know how.

Her phone rings, and the man on the other end can barely speak because he is crying. It doesn’t take long for her to establish that he is in despair about his wife’s death two years before, and that he has taken some pills to kill himself. At the center they have no way of tracing the call, so she tries desperately to help him find some way of caring enough about life to change his mind and call an ambulance.

The young woman asked him about his wife, what they liked to do together, and the couple’s life got fleshed out. She asked him about what he had done for fun. It turns out he was a jazz musician; she played a little jazz piano and had enjoyed going to a club where he had played. Clearly he was an interesting person, with gifts to share. Yet that was not enough for him to go on with life; without love life was empty of meaning.

Because it wasn’t an American film, the man actually dies, while the young woman stays with him on the line “holding his hand,” which was really quite beautiful. The actress was marvelous in her expression of the emotional states a caring person would go through as they were witness to another’s death. I’m sure if it had been an American film he’d have had a change of heart and the film would have had some sappy ending with the two of them playing jazz together.

A large percentage of deaths by suicide are elderly people, particularly men. I know how hard it is to go on without your companion in life, without the love that has supported you through the difficulties of life. I’m not suicidal, but I feel like I have a deep understanding now for those who do kill themselves over a lover’s death. This film can help everyone have compassion for these lonely older people and their choice.

This would be enough to make this a great short film, but what makes it truly powerful is the impact the phone call has on the young woman’s life. She grasps the source of the widower’s despair—the emptiness of a life without love—and reaches out to the young man in the office. The film ends with them in a club, both still a little awkward, but she makes the move to connect: she leans over and kisses him.

Find a way to connect with others and to have love in your life. In the end, love is all that matters.

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