Monday, August 27, 2012

The role of humor in grief as experienced in “The Descendants”


note: I had to write this essay for a grad school application. I've edited a little bit for the blog, but it's much the same as it was when I sent it in. I just really love this movie so I thought it was blog-worthy.

            The technique of comic relief has been used in plays and movies throughout the ages and mirrors real life, as laughter is often a form of dealing with grief. In the movie “The Descendants” humor is often used to relieve the feelings of grief, tension, or fear experienced throughout the film. Watching it made me aware of how frequently I use humor in my own life to alleviate the pressure of pain, often as a way of coping or diverting my otherwise consumed feelings.
            I watched this movie when it first came out. I remembered laughing out loud at many points to the extent that I hailed it as a “hilarious movie” to many of my friends. Then I watched it again with some of those same friends and was surprised at how sad the film really was. How did I not remember all the depressing parts? After, one of my friends told me, with tears running down her face, that I had a sick sense of humor.
            Upon further analysis, I realized the reason why I remembered the movie being so funny was because it was so sad. You feel so depressed that when a funny part comes along—as when the grandfather punches Sid in the eye or when the 12-year-old Scottie flicks off the guy who was responsible for her mother's boating accident—you are so ready to be relieved from the feeling of sadness that you laugh at a scene that may, on another occasion, not be quite as funny.
            I believe the reason that I remembered the movie being funny proved how quickly I want to forget the sad parts, not just of a film but also of life. I tend to be the comic relief at most sad occasions and figure out a way to make people laugh when they are upset, stressed, or dealing with grief.
            One of my favorite scenes from a film is in “Steel Magnolias.” The character M’Lynn has just buried her daughter and is in a fit of grief as she sobs and asks the elusive “why?” question. In the middle of her tirade, she says, “I’m so mad I could hit something.” The character Claree grabs Ouiser and says, “Hit her. You may not get another chance.” Ousier gets so angry she storms away and the others are left laughing. Claree says later, “Things were getting far too serious. We needed to laugh.”
            Three years ago, my grandmother passed away. I remember it being my job and the job of my sister to keep things from getting too serious. We watched comedies and made jokes, all to relieve the constant sadness and tension surrounding my grandmother’s hospice bed. I also learned during that time, that humor is just one way to deal with grief.
            Not every person in “The Descendants” dealt with grief the same way, either. The main person who seemed to use humor as a remedy for pain was the character of Sid. He’s a ridiculous person who laughs at the wrong times and says all of the wrong things, but we learn he’s experienced terrible loss in his own life, explaining why he completely avoids being serious.
            In the end, Sid seems to grow up and embrace the serious side of the situation, just as most people dealing with grief. Humor is a temporary relief, not a lasting one. It’s one method of getting through trouble, but like any other method, its powers never rescue us fully.
          I think it’s healthy to understand grief and the different ways people deal with it. Not everyone uses humor or appreciates it during a storm. It’s good to understand that humor, or any other method, can’t quite meet the needs of a sorrowing soul. And humor can often be a mask for someone guarding a broken spirit. 

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