JUNK FOOD: This Veil of Tears

July 2021

First: calm down, everyone. I know it’s “VALE” of tears, but bear with me.

As readers will have surmised by now, my grandmother—Jane—was a driving force in what media I consumed, and how I consumed it. Jane is perhaps the only person I’ve known who could re-watch movies as often as me. She would watch, and rewatch, and rewatch. She would wake you up in the middle of the night because something she loved was playing on cable; Jane would quietly coax you from sleep with the urgent whisper, “Come watch this with me; it’s never on.”

two people in white clothes stand in a green field of barley; Julian Sands and Helena Bonham-Carter in A Room With a View

I think Jane’s heart must have (safely) skipped two beats the day I showed up to her porch with the library’s plastic-encased VHS copy of A Room with a View. We watched it that afternoon, and many, many times after. We reveled in the beautiful absurdity of the sumptuous settings and costumes juxtaposed with supposedly classy people doing inane things. Don’t get it twisted, readers: Room is an enduring and lovely portrait of Edwardian coming of age, but it’s filled with silliness. Merchant/Ivory’s 1985 film highlights this beautifully.

woman in white dress is reflected in water in front of man in white jacket; Helena Bonham-Carter and Daniel Day Lewis in A Room with a View

But what has stuck with me most profoundly in the interceding 25 years since she and I first watched the tape, was Jane’s reaction to the climactic scene wherein the frazzled Lucy Honeychurch finally admits her love for the enigmatic George Emerson. Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of Lucy captured a wide-eyed wonder with an existential veneer that, I’d argue, remains relevant to today’s teens. But when the façade crumbles and her emotions let loose, Lucy cries for the first and only time in the film. Tears stream from her eyes and snot drips from her nose down her chin. At this Jane said, “She looks terrible: that’s not acting–that’s feeling.”

girl in white hat cries; Helena Bonham-Carter in A Room With a View

Tiny though the comment was, it has stuck with me because it confirmed something I’d suspected; feelings are messy. Even today, if I’m having a hard time and my face is red and wet from racking sobs and I’m tempted to hide, I think to myself, “I look terrible: that’s feeling.”