August always seems to be transitional. Yearning for the last sounds of the locust before the leaves fully fall to the ground and as you for wait for the summer season to be put to sleep. Coming off the heals of a very painful and emotional August - very much a season in my own life, I took solace in a Netflix movie; Tully, a story about a struggling mother.
It only took minutes for me to wrap my arms and heart around the main character Marlo. You meet her with two children and expecting a third. From the beginning it isn't about this glorious life wrapped up in a perfect motherly bow. You know the kind of illusion we all paint to make people think that life is blissful and unblemished with hardships. It is obvious from the opening scene that her child Jonah has special needs, as she strokes him gently with a sensory brushing technique. It was an instant connection for me. I already understood where we were going from the very beginning - a journey much like my own, perhaps just on a slightly different level.
I absorbed myself into her feelings, almost as if I could have written it or lived it. I think in a variation of it, I am still living pieces of Tully's story and perhaps I always will be. The mistake is the belief that this is a story about postpartum depression, it's simply not.
While Marlo did admittedly experience that with her second born Jonah, her third birth isn't really the cause of her struggle.
The premise of Tully is well crafted. Marlo has a wealthy brother and perfectionist Sister-In-Law that offers to hire and pay for a night nanny to assist her through the night with a new baby as a baby shower gift of sorts. It's blatantly apparent that Marlo feels like she can't quite measure up or relate to her Brother's wife's ideals or lifestyle and is hesitant of feeling like she needs to accept that kind of night time help. She's resistant to the idea, as most supermoms would be. The idea that we can't be all things to everyone or do all things somehow seems like admitted defeat. The movie script however leads us to believe that Marlo does indeed accept this generous offer and hires the night nanny, who's name is Tully.
Tully, this beautiful lifesaving friend that quickly becomes Marlo's hero diving into rescue her emotionally, physically, spiritually and soulfully. Tully steps in to fill all the missing gaps; making perfect cupcakes because Marlo lacks the energy to be that perfect mom who makes goodies for school events, cleaning her home when she's too exhausted in the middle of the night; taking care of things that Marlo lacks the energy and time to do. Tully rescues her from sleepless nights with a new baby, she nurtures the broken soul, feeds her understanding and compassion without judgment and truly understands that "You can't fix the parts without treating the whole." And that is exactly what Tully strives to do. Treats all the broken parts as a whole. Tully is carefree and free-spirited, young in her 26 years somehow she feels like a reminder of what Marlo has forgotten.
Marlo struggles with coming to grips with the challenges of her life. A child with a severe sensory processing order is no joke. Her son Jonah keeps getting defined as "quirkie" without any real diagnosis, but it's clear that he has unique needs that are not being met or addressed by his school, and that Marlo is completely unsupported as a parent by those in her community as the school principle informs her that she needs to find a PARA aid for her disruptive child in order to keep him enrolled in school - one of which she is fully financially responsible for funding and providing to accompany her son at a school all day. This leads to an eventual explosion of Marlo's feelings when the principal dismisses her child from school, with Marlo shouting at the top of her lungs that the world views her child as "retarded."
In that moment I just cried so hard. Because I can't tell you how often I have felt that way. That people look at Noah as nothing more than a word. A sad parent who drew the short stick in life with a child that is "damaged" and "disrupted." We carry these labels. We all do. And my label? The struggling mom. I am that mom. Whether you want to look away and pretend that I'm not. I am. Sure I can present this picture perfect have the world by the tail and everything is under control and managed persona just like Marlo. I can do tap dances with the best of the best. But underneath it all, I am aching for a Tully. That hero that will step in and fill the voids. And provide all the answers for all the really shitty parts that life has to offer.
While many claim that this is a movie about mental illness I don't see it that way. While it is presented in a way that may imply Marlo has lost touch with reality she hasn't. She recognizes who Tully is, she knows that. Tully's character was merely a cinematic presentation of her "before." Not someone that she truly believes existed in present time. But we're led to believe that is the case because the movie needs us to in order to fully understand the meaning and appreciate what Tully truly represents. What if your younger self could be the one to rescue you?
Marlo lacks a support system, she's truly doing it solo. And while she has a great husband he's oblivious to the extend of her needs and challenges. He's absorbed in work and in his spare time indulgences in video games. Leaving Marlo to feel undesired, overworked, and like maintaining the household and the kids are on her shoulders. Her husband Drew, however isn't to be hated or disliked. He genuinely does care about Marlo and his family, he just never fully seen or understood the level of Marlo's struggle or her needs primarily because Marlo did a good job of trying to camouflage what was going on and project that she had everything covered and needed no help. Marlo wasn't the type of woman to raise the white flag and surrender. So she invented Tully. A further fabrication in order to convince her husband she was getting the night support she needed to continue to be a superhero to her husband, children and community during the day.
Marlo is in this state of questioning of how she got to this moment in her life. And from Tully's perspective she's like cool, I have this life and maybe it's hard but it's incredibly beautiful. She is enamored with what the future holds, while Marlo feels a sense of being forlorn and lost. How the two merge into a life's understanding which is really an expression of profound understanding. Never once is Tully's position one of disappointment for how her life is destined to turn out. She's kinda like cool... hey it's messy and complicated but I'm okay that it turns out that way. Can you imagine if our younger self gave us such forgiveness and grace and complete non-judgment for how the ending of our lives turns out? And never placed blame that things turned out like they did.
I remember reading comments on some of these mommy boards on social media when this movie first came out. Most moms oddly very critical of the movie. They wanted a happy ending and felt it wasn't. One commented: "Movies are to entertain, enlighten and inspire. While we may not have ultimate healing in a particular season in our life, we need to know that it is achievable. We don’t go to movies to see complete road blocks."
Maybe that's true, maybe primarily people go to movies so they can get caught up in glamorous dramas or movies where it's all rainbows and unicorns at the end or a fantasy that will never exist. But what if we lost ourselves in something more real. What if we allowed ourselves to empathize and relate to a character in such a profound way. I think Tully was so impactful for me because I feel it's very rare that someone can identify with my life. And Tully felt like we mutually could identify with each other. Trying to come to terms with the "before" me and "after" me of any particular period or time in your life.
I know there are lots of Marlo's out there, I see them in special needs groups all the time. I recognize their cries for help. I understand their pain. I feel it. I live it. I know it. And the world too often turns a blind eye to all of us. They look away if they detect anything that to them would require them to participate in someone else's life in any real meaningful way. Which makes self-care even more critically important. Sometimes when no one is there you have to be your own hero even if it just means that you rescued yourself in a hot shower for 20 minutes so you had the strength to keep going on the rest of the day.
The movie ends like it begins. With Marlo working on her son's sensory challenges and working on a brushing technique with him. Her own journey and her incredible love for her children who now are a big part of her "after." It's not that Marlo's "after" is eternally sad, we should not look down upon but rather admire her journey for she's found ways to move forward.
Noah's Miracle by Stacy Warden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.