We've been working our way through Studio Ghibli's films, with Totoro being one of our absolute favorites. None of the films have failed to delight and impress, though. One, Grave of the Fireflies, we knew we would have to watch without Rosie, so last night we did, since she was at a sleepover.
I held a sobbing Lily on my lap (no easy feat since she's an inch shorter than me) for almost all of the movie and then cuddled with her in bed afterwards, dissecting the film and the short story it was based on, examining with her why watching it (and reading it) was an important thing for us to do.
To be fair, we gave her repeated opportunities to stop the movie, but having started it, she wanted to finish it. We've been spending a lot of time talking about literature and art and what separates it from much of the popcorn fluff our culture spends its time with.
What is literature/art and why is it important? Why do we push ourselves to watch things that break our hearts, make us feel devastated for the very real people that these sorts of harrowing life events happen to? Why does it matter? When is it okay to step back from the stuff that hurts?
An extended question is why do I focus in my composition courses on fiction and nonfiction texts that do hurt? Why did I make my 1301 class sit through Geraldo Rivera's expose on Willowbrook State School and then on the followup documentary (30 minutes of its hour and fifty minutes)? Why do they write essays on disability and what society's responsibility is towards the disabled, how ageism, ableism, and privilege impact people? And why are we now working through euthanasia of the disabled? It's no easy slog--not for the students and not for me.
It hurts. But it's the kind of hurt that humbles. It's the kind of hurt that makes one want to be a soft place for others, to do no harm, to actively seek to stop harm from being done.
Lily watched a hard, hard movie last night and had her first experience with the incredibly inhumanity we can and do perpetrate on each other and her heart hurt and she felt what both the author and filmmaker wanted: that this cannot and should not happen again. That children should be protected and loved. That death and destruction are wrong. Killing people is wrong. Destroying cities and those who dwell there is wrong.
I was only a little younger when I was first really exposed through film and novels to war and what it does to people. And a little older when I first saw Gallipoli. The films and novels that showed me a side of humanity I wasn't aware of still haunt me and figure in my courses: Slaughterhouse-Five, Catch-22, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Heroes. Gallipoli. MASH.
I'm just as obsessed, just as mystified as I was when I was ten and began the journey into literature and art that seared the soul. I'll be adding Grave of the Fireflies to what I show my students because it's just that important. Just as searing.