Waiting for the release of A Quiet Passion, I felt like my son must on the release of any new Jurassic Park or Star Wars movie—eager to be swept right into a time and a place beyond the limits of imagination while, also, trying to anxiously quiet the worry that the world may not measure up at all. So before I went, I allowed myself to take a quick peek at some reviews, like looking through a crack of an open door just to see if the room was even worth entering. After these sideway glimpses of the reviews from the usual giants, I was delighted to see it was all favorable. And thrilled to see that my local mom & pop theater was one of the few, in my vicinity, showing A Quiet Passion.
“Luck is not chance--
Fortune’s expensive smile
The Father of the Mine
Is that old-fashioned Coin
I made it clear to my family that they were invited to join me, but they should not go just to keep me company (they are sweet like that).
“If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.”
I wanted no distractions, especially one of worrying about if they were bored or not. My son opted out and my husband joined me. The fact that he fell asleep, however, serves as no comparison here really. He has fallen asleep on many better movies as well. He works long hours and has a long commute. Often, he is just tired. He, though, was not the only one sleeping during the movie. The quiet soundtrack of this movie does lend itself well to be able to hear clearly the snores and the heavy breaths of those slumbering around you.
A super-fan of Dickinson since I was a school girl, I found myself wishing I could close my eyes too and wake up to a different movie.
“When, duller than our dullness,
The busy darling lay,
So busy was she, finishing,
So leisurely were we!”
This is antithetical of the renowned reviews. So, before I get into my dislike, I will concur with the reviews that the actors were great minus the brother. But, I just cannot get over how this movie does so much to help confirm the stereotype that poetry is elitist and boring. I understand how might the well-known reviews in the papers/magazines be unable to say something as trite as this because they fear sounding anti-intellectual. So, in light of the true rebellious nature of Emily Dickinson, I will do it for them. This movie was a real snooze fest.
And like Dickinson, I am uncompromising in my beliefs.
I believe that we need to be steadfast in turning unwilling students into true believers of verse. There is a real need for poetry in all our lives, at all ages. From this pure love for the art, comes my worry that it will extinguish before it can even burn if we do not find a way to cause a spark with the younger generation.
I work in the trenches, fighting every day to get millennials to put down their phones and pick up a poem. And when I do have their attention and any one of Dickinson’s poems is read, then discussed—I get responses. She is not boring. It is easy to see. She was not just this weird recluse. She made her own way and loved not conforming to the harsh rules of religion, love, and life. What college student couldn't relate to that? But, first I have to get their attention. And this movie will not help. It will just play to their preconceived prejudice that poetry, especially written for the page, is tired. But once they are “woke,” my students grasp a hold of her work, relating to her verse through the aspects of their changing, wild, lives full of uncertainty, possibilities, and longings.
“Wild nights should be
They marvel at “Wild Nights,” and go off and have their own. They cheer emphatically that yes they too believe “A word is not dead when it is said" as they show me how the wounds slashed into their souls by the tongues of bullies remain unbandaged. And they wonder if they too are a “nobody” until they “Feel a funeral on their brain.”
I am broken-hearted that A Quiet Passion did not measure up.
"Unto a broken heart
No other one may go
Without the high prerogative
Itself hath suffered too."
It's a quiet disappointment sitting in an unfilled theater, that held just Ourselves and the AARPs, wasting Time watching an uninspiring movie about one of the America’s finest and most prolific writers. Time wasted on: long camera shots circling the room for no good effect, the bad acting of the brother and friend, the glib dialogue reminiscent of sitcom chatter, and Emily’s too long Intro. to Seizure scene—yes, we get it—and the rest. All that time could have been filled with poetry!
My hope is that this is at least the start of building more interest in Dickinson’s poetry. Look at how popular Fredrick Douglas has become in our modern day all because of a stupid comment made by 45. The adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity will hopefully apply here too to this bad movie. Even with two thumbs down, hopefully, A Quiet Passion will still inspire the reluctant to reach for and read Dickinson’s carefully worded, thoughtful and enchanting poetry.
"Hope is the thing with feathers"
More Dickinson :