Alan and I watched the Malaysian Penang Hokkien movie, You Mean the World to Me, last week. And I am so glad we did. It’s such a powerful movie about family, childhood trauma, and finding healing and forgiveness.
What stood out to me the most is how artfully the story, based on real life, was told. What could have been told in a cheesy, happy ending kind of way, was not. The director took some dark material from his own life, and confronted it head on, without glossing over it. It’s a bittersweet movie that evokes feelings of nostalgia, resentment, bitterness, anger, and finally, acceptance, understanding, and healing.
Without spoiling the plot (because you should watch it for yourself), the biggest thing I took away from the movie was this:
It is very easy to point fingers when you have been wronged. But when we stop to put ourselves in the shoes of the ones who have hurt us (often, our family, and our parents), it's not so easy to know exactly how we would have done things better. And with that knowledge, which usually takes time and empathy, comes understanding and acceptance. Understanding doesn't right the wrong. Acceptance doesn't try to justify it. Nothing about the past changes or becomes less terrible, because the past cannot be changed. What changes is our ability to process the past in the present - to heal, and move on from it.
But there is one more component to healing that is essential besides understand and acceptance. It's confrontation. Confronting the skeletons in the closet. Leaning into the pain. Facing the truth. It's realizing there is no side-stepping or downplaying or rationalizing what happened. It's staring into the darkness and letting it engulf you.
What we suppress will always come back to haunt us. In facing our fear we find freedom. It's an age old story of metamorphosis and transmutation. From caterpillar into butterfly. From carbon into diamond. From dust into pearl. From ashes into phoenix. It's not about running away from the hard stuff in life, but taking it and learning how to transform that into something that is both useful and quite breathtakingly beautiful at the same time. This is something a lot of art does.
There’s different types of art. There’s the art which transports us to another world, which allows us some form of escapism from life. Then there’s the art that is inspired by life, in all its shades and colors. For many years, the former was a way of coping with life. Lately, I’ve been savoring more of the latter.
Movies like this one.
Songs like Imagine Dragons’ Bad Liar (which lead vocalist Dan Reynolds wrote with his wife when their marriage was falling apart). The songwriters eventually split up, and then are rediscovering their romance by dating again. I believe it was this brutal honesty with each other and the world that allowed them to get to this place of transformation and restoring what was completely, utterly lost.
Songs like Coldplay’s Everglow (which always brings tears to my eyes listening to it), penned by Chris Martin and his ex-wife, Gwyneth Paltrow, as a tribute to their 10-year marriage that came to an end. I love that he said to the media: “Everglow started from the idea that when something crazy happens to you, it's strange how the world keeps rolling. I like the idea that at the end of most things there's something good to be found from it.” I love that the end of the music video includes an audio sample from Muhammad Ali saying: “God is watching me. God don’t praise me because I beat Joe Frazier. He wants to know: How do we treat each other? How do we help each other? So I’m going to dedicate my life to using my name and popularity to helping charities, helping people, uniting people, people bombing each other because of religious beliefs. We need somebody in the world to help us all make peace. So when I die, if there’s a heaven, I’m gonna see it.”
There have been many times in my life when I dreamed of vindication and I thought the best feeling in the world would come from seeing the people who hurt me understand what that hurt felt like. Revenge has a tantalizing taste when you’ve been wounded. But then with the years and reflection, came the steady awareness and understanding of the many times I have, myself, unknowingly hurt others. An inability to accept the worst in others, and accept that perhaps they had their own reasons for doing what they did, means an inability to accept the worst parts of myself. I now know the best feeling in the world comes from facing the thing that I most fear. Because there is beauty to be found at the end of the tunnel.
The movie ended with this beautiful quote in Hokkien:
“The ones who are the hardest to love are the ones who need it the most.”