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20 July 2010, 9:00 am 4 Comments

Film: When The Light Appears

This post was submitted by Troy Chatterton

When’s the last time you contemplated what a family is?

There’s no single answer, which is part of what makes a family miraculous.

At 41 years of age, I am having a family emergency.

Sitting through Lisa Cholondenko’s new film The Kids Are All Right, feelings of longing, regret, hopefulness, panic, excitement, and an unchecked desire began to surface. It’s as if seeing her characters going about their lives freed and set in motion a latent desire for MY FAMILY.

What about my family?

I’m not just talking about kids – although they do, pretty soundly define that a family does exist. Friends, often become a better family than the one we were born in to. Our biological family – mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, cousins- have a gravitational pull whether we are close or not.  Often too, colleagues become our extended family. And then you have the Kennedy family.

No, my family emergency is about the family I have when I close the door of my home and look around at the world I’ve made for myself. Our homes reflect what we care about and love. I like the home I have and consider it a work in progress. I have a roommate and he’s an old friend.  Don’t ever call me Felix! The older I get the more I recognize that what happens within the walls of my home is one of the most important things in life.

According to my criteria, my family looks flimsy and highly flammable. Magazines and books. Which we all know, objects don’t make family. When my closest friends read this they’ll be right to ask “Hey, what am I then?” Family, of course, but anyone who is honest with themselves knows that friends, and extended family, the people that live beyond the borders of the home, are valuable. Invaluable even, yet profoundly different.

Who do we get in bed with? Who do we build a home with? Who do we make the grocery list with? Who do we go on vacation with? Who has the great luxury of seeing us warts and all?Think of the countless decisions that go into making a home together. Over time the dailiness with the people that live in the home, add up, and create an original world that is uniquely one’s own. Which can be a beautiful, hard won thing. A necessary thing to have in this mad, majestic world. Thing meaning reality.

Part of my family emergency is born out of not yet earning the right to say I understand this concept of “family” fully. I’ve only experienced it in stretches of time. But when I do, it is undeniable, and a wonderful, satisfying thing . More than emotion or feeling – family becomes a certain knowledge of where you stand in the world. Belonging. Being understood and known. Something tells me that people having 5 years, 10 years, or decades under their belt will have something very important to say about the evolution of a long term relationship, the formation of family, and love.

In a New York Times article by Dennis Lim, Julianne Moore gave about as simple and good a definition of family as I’ve heard.

“It’s about how much time you’ve spent together. That’s what makes a family, not biology, not sexual or political persuasion. It’s just that: time.”

The Kids Are All Right gives a new living, breathing, visual of what the reality of a family looks like – familiar, yet different. Different in that Nic and Jules, two moms, have not been hemmed in by a someone else’s meaning of family – no, they’ve boldly created their own.  The irony is that a family headed by lesbians is not traditional – but the way Nic and Jules have gone about it is as traditional and ordinary as any American family.

Some day in the not so distant future, parents like Nic and Jules won’t be characterized as being bold. Families like theirs will be more common. Families like theirs are more common than most think, but only now are they being recognized in film, tv, and novels. Fewer people will take special notice. And the children raised in these modern families are growing up with a sense of entitlement – realizing that gay, straight, whatever – they have the right, capacity, and imagination to make a family in their own way.

At the end of the film, MGMT’s song The Youth is thrown down as a sort of gauntlet to the young and old. It’s Ginsberg-esque in its freewheeling spirit:

This is a call of arms to live and love and sleep together

We could flood the streets with love or light or heat whatever

Lock the parents out, cut a rug, twist and shout

Wave your hands

Make it rain

For stars will rise again

The youth is starting to change

Are you starting to change?

Are you?


The extraordinary news is that we are all starting to change, and if we are alive to the ebb and flow of the world around us, we can’t help but be changing with the tide of the times.

I’m beginning to see that my family emergency is a ripe opportunity. “Fecund” as Jules would say. And you?

Note: Add Home by LCD Soundsystem to your playlist and use it when you need a kick in the butt and spring in your step. “Don’t be afraid of what you need!”

photo: Suzanne Tenner/Focus Features

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  • kaitlin said:

    thanks for sharing troy! this was nice piece. i loved the movie as well!

  • Michael said:

    sounds perhaps like the path not taken Troy. Sorry about your emergency.

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