Painfully Precious

Mo'Nique as the unholy terror Mary.

Last weekend, I finally got around to watching Precious, a film deserving of all the critical acclaim heaped on it since its release.  Check out the review after the jump.

The film, as most of you probably already know, follows the life and experiences of Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), a black teenage girl living in Harlem in the mid-80s.  Dysfunctional doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of her horrific life and family.  Physically, sexually, and emotionally abused by both of her parents (her father’s rape results in two pregnancies and Precious contracts HIV from him).  Her mother, Mary (Academy Award winning Mo’Nique practically owns this film), is an unholy terror the likes of which viewers don’t often encounter outside of horror movies.  Precious’ only friends are a social worker, Mrs. Wiess (Mariah Carey), a teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), and a handful of classmates at her alternative school.

Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) navigates the streets of Harlem.

Coincidentally, the bulletin from the most recent Sunday morning service at the church I attend included this quote from Barbara Brown Taylor‘s Feasting on the Word:  “Whether we mean it or not, we construct worlds with speech. Describing the world we see, we mistake it for the whole world. Making meaning of what we see, we conflate this with God’s meaning. Then we behave according to the world we have constructed with our speech, even when that causes us to dismiss or harm those who construe the world differently.”  Precious works on so many levels, but they all touch on this notion of the power of words and the worlds that we create for ourselves and others from them.

Because of Precious’ limited experiences and lack of nurturing relationships, she is bound to the world, largely, that her mother creates for her.  In this world, Precious is nothing…she is no good…she has no future…she is a big fat loser (to put her mothers’ critiques mildly).  In her day to day life, these words have an immeasurable effect on Precious’ self-esteem and thoughts for her future.  She is quiet, keeps to herself, and struggles in her “normal” school.

To counter the negative world that her parents have created for her, especially during moments of particularly brutal torture, Precious retreats to her own internalized world in which she is famous, talented, adored, and loved.  Here she is dressed in the finest clothes, cameramen flock to take her picture, and a handsome man wraps his arms around her and kisses her cheek.

Precious receives words of encouragement from Ms. Rain.

Precious’ journey…her growth as an individual and as a young student…is one that requires her to both stand up for herself in her actions and in her school work.  As Precious breaks down one day in class after having told of some of her more traumatic experiences, Ms. Rain encourages her to write, even though she feels like she can’t or doesn’t have anything to write.  Ms. Rain knows that being able to construct her world through her words will empower Precious for the life ahead of her.

There’s a hopeful ending to this dark film, but it must be taken in careful consideration along with that darkness lest we become too optimistic.   In writing about the films of Sherwood Pictures for my dissertation, I paid special attention to a scene in Flywheel that features a preacher giving a sermon in which he talks about how we are all simply products of the choices we make and that the difficulties that surround our lives stem from our refusal to follow God’s will for our lives.  One of the many strengths of Precious is that it exposes the woeful short-sightedness of such a theology that, unfortunately, characterizes far too much of conservative, evangelical Christianity in America.  In the character of Precious, we have a young woman who carries the weight of the world on her shoulders through no fault of her own.  The notion that she brought such trauma upon herself by the choices that she made is unsympathetic at best and evil at worst.

Though it is difficult at times to watch, everyone would do well to view Precious.  Perhaps it will encourage us to be mindful of the people in or around our lives that suffer through no fault of their own.

Precious (109 mins.) is rated R for child abuse, including sexual assault, and pervasive language