“Another Woman” is one of my favourite films by Woody Allen. In it, Marion Post (played by Gena Rowlands) has just reached her fiftieth birthday. She retreats to a mid-town apartment to work on a new book, which happens to be next door to a psychiatrist’s office. Thanks to a poorly-filtered vent in the wall, she realises she can hear everything going on in the next room.
At first shocked by her unwitting intrusion into other people’s lives, she finds herself drawn in by the anguish of a much younger woman pouring out her heart. It awakens something in her, and sends her on a quest of self-discovery for the next 80 gut-inflating minutes.
She realises that she has spent most of her life inside an iceberg, the walls between herself and the outside world getting thicker and thicker as the years piled on greater layers of protection, but also isolation.
She’s stuck in an unfulfilling marriage, and on reflection realises that she missed one great chance at love out of fear, with her husband’s best friend Larry, a novelist.
On finding out that Larry has written a character based on her in one of his books, she seeks it out and finds a passage that recalls a single afternoon they spent together. They get caught in an unexpected rainstorm when walking through the park and take shelter in an underpass, where they kiss.
Midway through the kiss, he feels a connection, but as soon as their lips part the door closes, never to reopen. Larry’s novel describes the kiss as “full of desire” and demonstrates to him that Marion (or Herlinka, as she is named in the book), is “capable of intense passion, if she would just allow herself to feel.”
That may come across as flowery bullshit to some of you, but I feel like I’ve spent a great deal of my life meeting people like Marion.
I used to be like her, frightened of the intensity of the emotions I felt and not understanding why I didn’t respond to things like “normal” people. I gradually opened the gates, and began to start trusting people. It often did not go well for me, but I never retreated. I still allowed myself to feel. Well, sometimes.
Unfortunately, I then made the mistake of becoming Larry. I would seek out people like Marion, people who I felt – rightly or wrongly – had a sense of frozen vulnerability that I could help. If only I could solve their problems, then somehow my emotional struggles and pain would have value.
Instead, I only caused myself more pain as my efforts to be there for people only caused them to retreat further away from me, or use me (often unintentionally) for their own ends.
I discussed this syndrome – and it is one – with a friend recently. I described the types of situations I’d found myself in, and my desire to help, but I guess it must have come out wrong.
My friend laughed, gently. “They’re people, not projects,” he said.
Is that really what I was doing? I didn’t think so.
At the end of “Another Woman”, Marion resolves that she has to change her life. She reaches a level of self-awareness and recognises the opportunities she’s passed by in life; the sacrifices she’s made out of fear. But she’s a 50-year-old woman. She had to do it in her own time.
Some people will always be Marion. If they’ve locked the gates, you can’t wait outside them forever.