By Linda Pountney —
Multiple loss themes run concurrently throughout the movie The Secret Life Of Bees, based on Sue Monk Kidd’s novel, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. Dakota Fanning plays Lily, a guarded fourteen-year old, grief-stricken over the death of a mother she hardly remembers. A tortured soul, Lily’s father (Paul Bettany) takes his pain out on his daughter. His cruelty contributes to Lily’s imaginary world where her mother exists to nurture her.
Lily embarks on a journey to uncover the truth about her mother. Her nanny Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) accompanies her on a trip that crosses racial boundaries during the Civil Rights era. Three mildly eccentric black sisters, August, June and May Boatwright give Lily and Rosaleen a home. Queen Latifah, as August, teaches Lily to make Black Madonna Honey in a small South Carolina town.
Sophie Okonedo is cast as May, the youngest Boatwright sister. Her sisters gently watch over her in a lenient fashion. A veil of loss hangs over May. As the sisters explain: “She has some very heavy feelings from having lost her twin so young.”
In the backyard stands a “wailing wall” created rock by rock by downhearted May, encouraged by her sisters. Grief emotions that are too heavy to carry are written down on paper, folded and tucked between the rocks. The pain, anger, and abandonment of her loss are deposited in the wall. The family respects this. They searched for support avenues for her, which I found to be honest for the times, but sad.
We learn that the Boatwrights also played a part in Lily’s mother’s life. A sense of family is born and healing relationships are formed. Exploring the depth of family, a nurturing safe environment is shown to promote healing. Lily finds release and comfort in her writing. As a therapeutic tool it fosters her sense of self; we glimpse her future as an author.
May is depicted as never having grown up. In contrast she utters these words of wisdom: “sometimes not feeling is the only way you can survive”. The bee-keeping analogy of a worker bee carrying five times its weight in pollen, but surviving only weeks, eludes to May’s fate.
The life of bees is depicted in correlation to human life. A defining quote from Lily: “I know you get real sad, May, but I would rather be like you, than like my Dad…he never feels.” The movie painfully accepts May’s eventual suicide from “being tired of carrying the weight of the world”, and desiring to be happily reunited with her twin. I question May’s over-sensitive nature being portrayed as mentally challenged.
To digest so many aspects of loss in one movie is extraordinary. It is uplifting yet heartbreaking to confront loss with honesty, and acknowledge how lives are changed. August coaches Lily to “find the mother in herself” for comfort, a valuable lesson of looking within. The redeeming value of helping another as a means for change shined throughout this movie.
Linda Pountney is Vice President of Twinless Twins Support Group International http://twinlesstwins.org offering support for twins and other multiples who have lost their twin due to death or estrangement, http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/TwinlessTwinsSupportGroup/