The intolerable and fight, flight, or acceptance

by Andrea Elizabeth

In the Bedroom, whose title refers to lobsters turning on each other in a pot/cage, is a movie based on a short story by Andre Dubus about a couple dealing with their son’s relationship with a not yet divorced woman. The father shares his son’s enthusiasm and the mother tries to convince the son to end it, especially when the estranged husband starts getting violent. May want to watch before reading further. Late in the film the couple finally air their feelings to each other. He says she’s too critical, controlling, and scary after she says he was too lenient, passive, and compliant in raising their son. The father did spoil the son, but did the mother alienate him too much? The son felt comfortable blowing her off because his father did not agree with her. Is this because he was the head of the house? She felt unsupported and she disrespected her husband’s passivity. Indeed the husband did not seem to get a backbone until he decided on his own to go confront the estranged husband. His new course of action also involved initiating the conversation with his wife, which he had been avoiding. Major spoiler alert. But his new activism/fight mode leads him too far in deciding to execute the estranged husband for killing his son. He did not want to hear the ex’s side because it involved criticizing the son’s affair with his wife. In the ex’s house it is when the father notices a picture of the woman with her ex that shows her happy, that his ideal of her starts to crack. She is happy with a violent jerk. But he’s stoked enough on revenge to keep going without the fuel of the knight in shining armor rescuing her.

I bet that if she could bring her son back from the dead she would be more tolerant and accepting about his quitting school and his relationship with the woman. But if she had it to do over again would she be the one to call the police if the dad didn’t? She and the son had a habit of letting the dad have the last word. I think she would still want him to be the one to do it, but would he? Surely. So the fix in the story is the dad having backbone and better insight into his son’s girlfriends and their exes. Even though the mother was angry at her husband, she would freak out if he was gone. She did not want to be the front person standing against wrong things. She desperately wanted him to be the activist who agreed with what she felt was intolerable. She could not tolerate intoleration on her own. I wonder what the feminists would say to that. They would definitely want her to be the one to call the police even if her husband didn’t agree. And he was a flee-er. She probably liked his acceptance of her all those years, and since she was such a perfectionist, she needed that balance. But that was because she was also critical of herself. But when an accepter accepts the unacceptable, that’s when it’s bad. He needed her critique. Until he quit fleeing and learned it on his own.

I am starting to think that intolerance is not the answer. Ultimatums, murder, or completely dissing someone seem like hyper-control measures to get someone to change against their will. This is how the ex acted, then the father followed suit with the support of his wife. Not that we can or should tolerate proximity with evil, not erect barriers, nor withhold talking about our convictions, but being obsessed with controlling others’ behavior is the wrong focus. Many family members of murdered people become obsessed with the killer. It almost seems like Stockholm Syndrome where you lose your identity and adopt the killer’s because they were the ones who had ultimate control of the loved one. People cave to dominant control.

So what to do if something evil or wrong or intolerable is controlling your loved one? Pray. Be honest. Maybe call the police. Eventually accept that you cannot control their either willful compliance or situation after they have left your home. On crime documentaries families seem held hostage by murderers who take the focus away from their dead loved ones. I believe the deceased want others to know what happened, and who did it, and maybe protection for others, but not obsessive revenge or stalking. It would be very difficult if the murderer went free in your community, but I think it’s healthier to let them go than to become a vigilante. That’s more about wanting compensation. You can’t be compensated for the life of a child. Nothing will help except someday seeing them in heaven after you’ve lived and died well. And maybe a sense of their presence now. That is why nothing is intolerable. Death has been destroyed.

The movie did not idealize anything that happened. Well done. I want to read more of Andre Dubus‘ stuff.