May 21

“The Quiet Girl” a Must-See: Thoughts and Spoilers

While I have nothing but praise for the award-worthy 2022 Irish film The Quiet Girl, set in the 1980’s, it feels unfair to reveal much about it to those who haven’t yet seen it—it’s just one of those kinds of movies. On the other hand, if, like me, you have already seen it and have wallowed in its meaningful poignancy, maybe you’d like to revisit what makes it so special and/or relatable.

IMDB: “In rural Ireland, a quiet, neglected girl is sent away from her dysfunctional family to live with relatives for the summer where she blossoms and learns what it is to be loved.”

Source Material

Based on the novella Foster by Claire Keegan.

The Main Character, Cáit (Catherine Clinch)

Nine years old. Jessica Kiang, Variety:

The easily overlooked kid in a household of scrappier siblings, she is first seen hiding in the fields while her frustrated mother, pregnant again, calls for her to come in. At school she’s miserable, rejected by her peers, and at home she’s mostly invisible, especially to her ne’er-do-well father (Michael Patric), who is too busy gambling to work much on the family farm, let alone to take much notice of this mousy little thing under his feet.

Michael Shelton, MS, LPC, Psychology Today, recommends The Quiet Girl for movie therapy and educational purposes. He highlights Cáit’s role as a “lost child” in a dysfunctional family. “Lost children are almost invisible in families, remain isolated, and rarely engage in any behavior that would attract attention, including complaining.”

The Main Plot

Jessica Kiang: “So when her mother’s wealthier cousin Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) and her farmer husband Seán (Andrew Bennett) offer to take the girl off her parents’ hands for a summer, Cáit’s dad drives her the three hours to Waterford and deposits her with them, with something close to relief.”

Alberto Cox Délano, Pajiba: Eibhlin “joyfully [takes] up on the motherly role. Unlike in the novella, the husband…is much more reluctant to embrace Cáit, but he is slowly melted into a doting, if not effusive, papa bear. Cáit, in turn, begins to blossom and enjoy herself, for the first time. However, a melancholy hovers over the Kinsellas’ home, something which becomes very evident from Cáit’s first night there.”

Secrets Versus Omissions

It becomes clear that Cáit has believed that all families have secrets. (By the way, she also wets the bed. Two possible signs of sexual abuse, though this is never spelled out as such.) Eibhlin wants her to know there are no secrets in their home—secrets mean shame. We learn, however, of a significant omission.

Loss and Grief

The omission? Their beloved young son recently died. Cáit’s been wearing his clothes.

Finding (And Losing Again) One’s Voice

As she absorbs their love, Cáit eventually opens up with this couple. It’s sad for all three that she has to return home after the birth of her newest sibling. Eibhlin and Seán bring her there; inside that home Cáit instantly, again, clams up completely.

…And More On That Ending

The highly distressing ambiguity: Will Cáit stay home or will she be able to keep her new parent substitutes? (The ending I choose for her is the love and safety she deserves.)

The Quiet Girl  Makes Grown Men (And Women) Cry

David Fear, Rolling Stone:…one of the single most moving, heartfelt, and heartbreaking movies from any country in the last decade. That only sounds like hyperbole until you see it.”

Christopher Llewellyn Reed, FilmFestivalToday: “…I have found myself bursting into gentle tears at the most unexpected moments, the memory of its painful beauty still fresh.”

Nick Schager, The Daily Beast: “…a finale of such desperate love, distress, fear and acceptance that it earns every one of the many tears it elicits.”

Feb 02

Ambiguous Loss, Lack of Closure: Pauline Boss

Pauline Boss coined the term “ambiguous loss” and invented a new field within psychology to name the reality that every loss does not hold a promise of anything like resolution. Amid this pandemic, there are so many losses — from deaths that could not be mourned, to the very structure of our days, to a sudden crash of what felt like solid careers and plans and dreams…Krista Tippett, Onbeing.org

Ambiguous loss is a concept coined by (now retired) therapist Pauline Boss decades ago when she was a graduate student. Her book Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief was a solid introduction. Her newest, The Myth of Closure: Ambiguous Loss in a Time of Pandemic and Change, was just released in December.

What is closure all about anyway? As Graison Dangor reports (NPR), “People may long for closure, which psychologists define as the act or sense of completing or resolving a problem we’re suffering from… In fact, [Boss] argues, not feeling closure is actually healthy as we seek to move forward with life.”

Selected Quotes from Boss’s NPR Interview

Ambiguous loss is a situation that’s beyond human expectation. We know about death: It hurts, but we’re accustomed to loved ones dying and having a funeral and the rituals. With ambiguous loss, there are no rituals; there are no customs. Society doesn’t even acknowledge it. So the people who experience it are very isolated and alone, which makes it worse.

Many people in this world have been forced to live with it: families with missing loved ones such as soldiers missing in action or children kidnapped, as well as people with loved ones who have dementia. What I’ve learned over the years is that most of them continue living a relatively good life with the ambiguity of loss. They do that by holding two opposing ideas in their mind at the same time: My loved one is here and also gone. That way of thinking shakes us loose from thinking with certainty, you know: “You’re either dead or alive.” Well, sometimes we don’t know.

You can’t continue to hope that we’re going to go back to how our society was before the pandemic. Changes have already taken place. And they won’t go back once it’s over. You should move forward with something new to hope for.

Selected Quotes from Boss’s Books (Goodreads):

Ambiguous loss makes us feel incompetent. It erodes our sense of mastery and destroys our belief in the world as a fair, orderly, and manageable place.

To regain a sense of mastery when there is ambiguity about a loved one’s absence or presence, we must give up trying to find the perfect solution. We must redefine our relationship to the missing person. Most important, we must realize that the confusion we are experiencing is attributable to the ambiguity rather than something we did – or neglected to do. Once we know the source of our helplessness, we are free to begin the coping process. We assess the situation, begin revising our perceptions…We feel more in charge even though the ambiguity persists.

Mixed emotions are compounded when a separation involves the potential of irretrievable loss. When there is a chance that we will never see a loved one again, we protect ourselves from the prospect of losing that person by becoming ambivalent– holding our spouse at arm’s length, picking a fight with a parent, or shutting a sibling out even while he or she is still physically present. Anticipating a loss, we both cling to our loved ones and push them away. We will resist their leaving and at the same time want to be finished with the goodbye.