The Forgotten

She spends most of the film desperately running. Less a matter of attempting to escape than a furious effort to avoid the kind of disappearance that would seem to be her fate. For she is enveloped in a world in which her very memories are held with suspicion, especially by her husband and her shrink. Most cruel of all is their single-mindedness in trying to convince her that she never had a son. That her memories are but a delusional form of self-defense, seeking to protect against any expectant mother’s worst nightmare: the premature extinction of life. A miscarriage.

But she does not believe them.

Deep down in her bones, despite the fact that no one else believes her, what she knows is this: She had dropped off her son, a mere nine years of age, at the airport. Off to summer camp, it would seem. Her last memories of him, the unselfconsciousness of a young boy still secure in his mother’s love, learning to navigate the world at large. Discovering the pleasures to be had in the great unknown, the breeze running through his air. And then, the unimaginable. The flight which was taking him away from her disappears, never to return. Presumed dead. With her son gone – but never forgotten – she comes to be shrouded in the dark fog of melancholy and despair.

The therapist will try to get her let go of the memories, to loosen her hold on what has passed away. They will talk about her routines and obsessions, a roundabout effort to pry her from the grip of death.

How much time did you spend at [his] dresser compared to last week?
— Less.
How much less?
— I don’t know exactly.
Maybe you can guess, roughly, for the week?
— Oh, not even an hour a day …
And how long has it been now? Since your loss?
— You’re hoping I guess again, aren’t you?
How long?
— Fourteen months, six days.
— I can tell you what time it was, down to the hour and minute if you want.
— I can’t help it.
It’s alright. It’s just a memory doing its job.
Sometimes the mind needs help in letting a thing go.

*    *

For a while, she’ll comply. Trying to “get better,” even finding the energy to go back to work. Until she notices that the son she lost has begun to disappear from the world around her. The traces of him, reminders of his life, beginning to fade away, pictures changing, as if he never existed. Even those who loved and knew him – her husband, her friends, her neighbors – no longer recall his existence. The boy she had raised as her own was turning into a freakish memory that was to be hers and hers alone. When she invokes his name, all she gets in return are blank stares of incomprehension or, worse, the furrowed brow of concern. And the fear that she’s slowly going insane.

So, it will be with no small amount of anguish that she will realize that her son is not only dead. He’s also being banished from the last frontier between being and nothingness. His mother the only thread connecting this world with his (prior) existence, as if there were a conspiracy of silence to erase the boy – and his memory – from the very face of the earth. And that’s when the running begins.

*    *    *

To whom does one turn, when faced with such a plight?

In the dark of night, she will seek out the man she had once met in the playground sitting on the swings. A ritual they seem to have shared. It’s the place where their children used to play – her Sam and his Lauren – both of whom had vanished on that awful day, sharing the same fate. But where she has become manic by her loss, electrified by the horror of what was taken, he’s become an unapologetic drunk, sinking under the weight of an absence that has no name. Not a promising prospect, to be sure, but perhaps there might be something to be gleaned from him. After all, the loss he mourns is not so different from her own.

*    *

It’s not like he was her first choice; desperate times call for desperate measures. After all, her attempts at conjuring the memory of her son were quickly fading. No longer could she find repose in the comfort of his remembered face or the light that came with his smile. Instead, all she found was the darkness of his empty room. And in the absence of remembrances shared with others, she is forced to lead a life absent meaning, asked to pretend that he was never born.

Her relationship with her husband has become a dance both awkward and halting. She wanting to remember, he already having forgotten. As she mourns her loss (and theirs), he will tip toe around the house, as if she were a broken flower, ever fearful that she might lose it completely. Seeking to find a balance between cautious optimism and restrained empathy, not wanting to give too much credence to her sorrow. Feeling the not-so-subtle pressure to “move on,” she will attempt to play along, putting on a mask for his benefit, hoping that this impossible situation in which they find themselves will go away. That she can find some way of living in a world that has banished their son beyond the bounds of memory.

But it’s as if she’s been given a deck of cards that is woefully incomplete, or a puzzle in which a crucial piece is missing. That this life she’s being asked to lead is built around a dizzying hole which she cannot abide.

And so, she will find herself in a crowded house, barely able to breath. A virtual prisoner among the inanimate objects with which she and her husband had come to fill their otherwise empty home. Suffocating, not only by the very absence of space that had been created, but by the skewed vision of things with which she had been asked to comply. In coming to this recognition, the only rudder she can rely upon is her intuition, and it’s telling her – in fact, it’s screaming – that things have gone terribly wrong. Struggling against the queasiness brought about by this sinking ship, her desperation will push her to the limit. Having witnessed the abyss, she will stand up to the husband who wants things to stay as they are, the one who asks that she relinquish her “delusions” about a boy that, according to him, was never born at all. Finding the strength to stand up for herself, particularly where it counts the most.

I can’t be with you anymore, I don’t see you anymore.
Just get out.
You erased our son!
You erased my boy!
You made it all blank [and] took him away!

*    *    *

True to her name, Telly – “ambitious” and “wise” (one could also say “tenacious”) – will go looking for the other, the one who also lost a child. And since she had seen him first, it is she who will chase him down, particularly since his brain is still addled by drink.

When she reaches his home, she will find what looks like an empty prison. Much to her dismay, she will also find a man who no longer remembers, caught up instead in the fading memory of his earlier glory, back when he was an athlete and a star. But she will not be taken in. (He’s not her type. Besides, her son was a fan of baseball not hockey.) Instead, because she recognizes what has been happening around herself – the evacuation of memories of the dead – she will realize the link between his drinking and his child, less an attempt to forget than a measure of what it means to live with a loss already unremembered. But as she wanders the vacant apartment looking for signs of the dead, she will find nothing, matched only by his sense of stupendous confusion.

As he sinks into the groggy mists of an alcohol-induced sleep, she will continue her search for the forgotten and – finally – comes across a marking upon the wall. A hole through which one can see into the past. With knife in hand, and without a second thought about the dictates of propriety, she will cut through the thick covering that has kept the truth hidden, tearing away at that which would paper over evidence of a daughter no longer remembered. Once the violence of excavation is complete, she will gasp at what has been discovered, the gorgeous signs of a life that once belonged to a child. Forgotten perhaps, but not gone.

By morning, when he stumbles out of bed, he will be convinced that she is crazy, destroying both his home and his belongings, standing amidst the rubble and confusion in the room she says once belonged to his daughter. Despite his agitation, she will persist with the questions – asking about the one he no longer remembers, asking how long he’s been drinking, asking him to say her name aloud – emboldened by a growing certainty that she’s not crazy. That it’s everyone else that has forgotten. That, for whatever reason, she is the only one that remembers.

You remembered her before this. Everybody remembered our children.
And then something happened, our children have been forgotten.
— Okay, that’s enough. Let’s go.
Say her name, and I’ll go!
I said his name everyday.
Just say it so you can hear it: “Lauren”
SAY IT!
— Lauren.
Now look around again.
She was here. She lived here.

In that single moment the very truth of existence hangs in the balance: will he remember or won’t he? For Telly, it’s less a matter of his remembering her son than his ability to recalling the fact that he once had a daughter. If he’s able to pull his head out of the fog, it will vindicate her belief in the face of others, including the therapist and husband who insisted that she was crazy. If this man can find a way to remember his own daughter, that will mean that she’s never been delusional, that she didn’t invent memories of a child that never was. That another life actually did exist before, only to be erased by the imperative of living.

With the two of them standing there face-to-face, she waits for an answer. Two portraits of the aftermath of death. Telly, consumed by the absence that has hollowed the bones of her body, an absence she has transformed into the purity of feeling. Hanging onto the threads of memory that are left to her, even while surrounded by a sea of disbelief. He, on the other hand, ekes out a bare existence in a prison already emptied of life, unaware of the absence that has invaded his very being. Robbed of a life he no longer recognizes as his own, and reduced to the shadow of a ghost.

Quite appropriately, he goes by the name of Ash.

*    *    *

Because he doesn’t believe her – or, rather, because he’s unable to remember – the police will come and haul her away. Returned to the very prison she had sought to escape, banished from the hope she had invested in his ability to overcome what’s been erased. Betrayed by her desire to believe in another, as well as herself, she finds herself returned to a land where even her instincts cannot be trusted. Languishing. Robbed not only of her son, but of her very ability to have faith in herself.

And so, as the police escort her out the door, she will turn to ask one last question, no longer imploring that he remember. Instead, like before, she will begin to wonder about her own sanity.

They say I dreamed it all.
Do you think I dreamed it?

But even as Telly is hauled away – or perhaps precisely because of her absence – Ash will return to the room that was his daughter’s. And much to his surprise, he will begin to remember. First with shock, and then later with delight, floored by the sight of what he had so confidently assumed had never existed. A child, his child, banished from memory has returned to him, a father finding his way back to his daughter.

Thanks to that strange woman, the child who had been banished to the realm of the erased and unremembered has been brought back to (his) life.

With this newfound conviction, all the more surprising because of its long-lived absence, he will rush down to intercept the police, fighting his way through the barriers that now separate him from Telly. He will shout to her that he finally remembers, even as he struggles against those that would take her away and, if successful, consign the memories of their children to the dustbin of history.

As they manage to escape the authorities, another piece of information will leave them doubly confounded. Her case and arrest has been taken over by another Division, one different than those usually assigned to cases of domestic disturbance. Men in dark coats belonging to an organization heard about but rarely seen, raising even more questions than answers: The National Security Agency.

And this is when the running really begins.

*    *

As Telly runs from her would be captors – and unbeknownst to either of them – we will notice an observer, a person with no name other than the moniker given to him in the closing credits of the film: A Friendly Man. But with time his face will become familiar, for he is more than a random figure. In fact, he will be found at the margins of future encounters and escapes, as Telly and Ash seek to avoid capture even while chasing after the truth behind their missing children. A man with a specific interest in the outcome of this story, and whose presence only deepens the mystery about the relation between vanishing memories and the dead.

*    *    *

Clearly, Ash’s “conversion” is not the end of the story. After all, their kids are still missing, and as they’ve recently discovered, authorities normally unconcerned with trashed apartments and the fate of missing children have taken an inordinate interest in what Telly and Ash are so adamantly refusing to forget.

After evading those that would take them into custody, they will meet up at the playground once again, sitting on the swings that, in an previous life, was the site of their children’s joy but which, in their absence, has become a sacred site of remembrance, as well as a reminder of the seemingly impossible task with which they’re faced.

Sitting there, he will berate himself, shamed by the awful recognition of what he had allowed himself to forget, wondering whether he has the strength to join Telly in her fight. It would seem that the cards are stacked against them, for they have no allies: there are no friends or lovers to assist them in this unprecedented endeavor. In other words, he finds himself in the position with which she has long been familiar: wondering about his sanity, overwhelmed by confusion, plagued by doubt. Nonetheless, during this rendezvous in the quiet of night, they will form an uneasy alliance, struggling against the forces that seem dead set against their crusade on behalf of the forgotten.

I can’t do this.
— You have to, because I can’t do this alone.

Emboldened by the tentative gesture of faith Ash has come to invest in her, Telly will share her suspicions about what may have happened to their children. Not quite theories but, rather, a series of haunting questions that she has been unable to answer. And while some of her conclusions may come across as far-fetched, there is a certain logic to her reasoning, one that cannot be easily dismissed.

It’s the inverse of what she’s found around her: beginning with the memory of her child as opposed to the “reality” she’s been asked to accept. The persistence of a memory, despite the doubt cast on her and her sanity, that forms the core of the puzzle with which she’s been faced. And with Ash as her newfound ally, it defines the heart of the struggle they’re beginning to fight together.

Do you ever feel like somebody, something’s watching you?
— Like surveillance?
No. I mean sometimes people are taken. We hear that.
— What are you talking about?
Abduction.
— Wait a minute. You’re freaking me out. I’m having a National Enquirer moment.
Listen to me. What do we know?
I had a son. You had a daughter. They had lives. They died.
And everyone besides us believes they never existed.
What could do something like that?
— Come on, there’s got to be another explanation.
Who could erase our kids?
Every picture of them, gone. Every newspaper article, gone.
Every memory gone!

But before they can argue over the veracity of whatever it is that she’s suggesting, they will be interrupted once again. The forces that have been chasing them down will have found them again. Men clad in dark trench coats intent on their capture. Or worse: erasing the very memory of the children they refuse to believe never existed.

*    *

After reaching the safety of an anonymous room on the other side of town, Telly will call her shrink – the one aligned with her husband – telling him of the events that transpired that night. He is, after all, the one who had tried to convince her that she was delusional, that her best hope was learning how to let go of the memories of her son. And so, it’s a minor triumph to be able to report to him that she’s found another who remembers, that she’s no longer alone.

But given her conflicting allegiances, it’s only a triumph if he concedes defeat. And that’s something he’s not yet willing to grant, leaving her with that familiar sinking feeling. That the ones she looks to for validation and comfort will refuse her the very thing necessary for her survival.

I found someone else. His daughter was on the same flight.
He didn’t remember her, but now he does.
How do you explain that?
How do you explain the people chasing us?
— Telly, this is a panic attack.
— Just hold on, alright?
— Tell me where you are. I’ll leave right away.
— You need help.
No. I need you to start believing me!

*    *    *

Ash, on the other hand, will return to the bottle, still plagued by the idea that he would forget his own daughter, unable to find a way out of his conundrum: caught between the shame of his complicity in the erasure of his child’s memory and the desire to escape the pain of remembrance, the hole left by her disappearance. Hounded by the idea that he might not be as strong as Telly, this woman who somehow refused to forget.

You held out [and] I didn’t. I forgot her. How’d you do that?
— I don’t know.
What’s so important about us? or our kids?
I mean the kids are dead. Why try to erase our memories?

Unbeknownst to him, Telly will sleep on this question, turning it over in her mind. It was, indeed, a question worth asking, and one that would only serve to deepen the mystery that now binds them to each other. Lying in bed, she would ponder the outlines of this enigma. Why erase memories if the children are already gone? Why go through the trouble of eradicating the ghostly shadows of a past that no longer exists?

By morning, she will have received her answer, one as clear as the light of day. There’s no other logical explanation for the trouble that’s been taken to eliminate their memories. There’s only one reason why it would be important for them to forget: the children must still be alive.

It’s in light of this revelation that she will (finally) ask him to stop his drinking, not only because it’s a pathetic attempt at escape but also because she needs him clear-headed and in the present, able to think. Confronted by Telly’s self-assurance and resolve, he will throw away the bottle, recognizing the new meaning she’s shed on their situation, saying he’s doing it as much for himself and his daughter, as for her.

When he asks – somewhat defensively – whether there’s something she doesn’t already know, she’ll make a confession. Not so much an unmasking of what’s been concealed than an acknowledgment of the awful limits of her understanding, no matter how self-assured:

I don’t know how to get my son back.

Clearly, Ash doesn’t know how to find their children either. But Telly’s confession will serve as a reminder of the two facets of their dilemma. For it’s not merely a matter of evading the authorities, and neither does it come down to denouncing the “truth” that seeks to trump what they know to be their own. Instead, the untrodden path upon which they find themselves is finding a way to retrieve what has been banished but not forgotten. A journey of faith that requires a certain kind of trust – in themselves and each other – that they will find the way.

*    *

Later that night they find a kink in the armor that has kept the mystery with which they’re faced so protected and hidden. Capturing an agent of National Security that’s been tracking them. He is the first. The one Ash caught deep in the woods, spying on the cabin as Telly slept. Perhaps a sign that they have found the first of many unfoldings: his name is A Petalis.

But he will maintain his defensive facade, sticking to his story, telling them to forget. And yet, as they persist in their questioning, his resolve begins to crumble, and the tale he sought to tell will begin to change. Finally, some truths begins to emerge.

It’s not me. It’s not us. We cooperate.
— Cooperate with who?
— Why do you cooperate with them?
Survival.
— Whose, yours?
Yours, too.

On one level, this would seem to be confirmation of Telly’s earlier wonderings. That the children have been abducted, that they might still be alive. And yet, it also raises an unsettling question. According to this man, these collaborators – these agents of forgetfulness – are not merely seeking to hide the missing and the dead. The abductions are conducted in the name of survival, their own and the rest of humanity’s.

And so they will have their first answer to their question about why it’s so important they not remember, why their memory is considered dangerous. It threatens to undermine the arrangement that seems to have been made on their behalf, cooperating with forces that abduct children in the interest of a civilization’s survival. It also explains why they’d be hounded by the agents of National Security.

As they continue with their questioning, Telly will realize that Ash’s threats of violence have begun to lose their effectiveness. Perhaps the agent recognizes that, in betraying his secrets, he’s already doomed to die. And since no threats will sway him any longer, Telly will play upon the man’s responsiveness to her and the questions that she poses. As if the two of them possessed a connection that Ash did not share.

So she leans in close to him, a sign of an intimacy at odds with what would appear to be a hostile interrogation. And as she does so, asking her questions, a picture begins to emerge, bigger than they could have ever imagined. Nobody was supposed to remember. It wasn’t part of the experiment. And when Telly asks about how to get their children, his answer – as much a confession as a declaration of a truth that has been long withheld – will simply be this:

They’re listening.

And almost immediately, as if in retribution for violating a secret code, the man is pulled away with such force that the very building which held them disappears, blown apart at the seams by the violence of his departure. A measure of the forces that have kept it intact as well as the energies that are released upon discovering the deceit inherent in its construction. When the local police arrive the following morning, they will be baffled. For there will be no sign of an explosion, no evidence of a fire, no signs of blood.

All that remains is evidence of a (former) structure that no longer exists.

*    *    *

As Telly and Ash drive away, she will allow herself a return to her favorite reverie, the last memory of her son, just before he boarded the tiny commuter plane that would take him away from her. And as the familiar images flash through her mind, she will be struck by something she hadn’t noticed before. The name on the plane itself: the company that had some connection with her boy’s disappearance and supposed death.

QuestAir … as if the very act of flight was the cause of their misfortune. For him as well as for her. The loss against which they fight the result of an aspiration to reach heights reserved for the gods, arrogating the airy heavens as a kingdom of their own.

When they locate its headquarters, they will find an abandoned building. Where once there was a host of employees working busily in the service of industry, they will find a solitary figure hunched over a desk piled over with books and papers, in an office marked Accounting. Appointed by the court, the woman says.

For QuestAir has been declared bankrupt.

This discovery will point them to the home of the President, the head of QuestAir. But once they arrive at the residence that reeks of privilege, a solitary structure sitting atop a hill, what they discover is much like what they had found before: an abandoned shell of a home, empty of any signs of life. Finding that the apex and center of this unfolding mystery is nothing but a vacancy and an absence, unattended and unwarmed.

Nobody lives here.
— Yeah, that’s strange.
— They didn’t move out. They just left.

And as they lie down to sleep for the night, Ash will silently whisper his thanks. Because there’s no doubt about it: he’s finally awake.

The following morning – and quite independently of the other – both of them will have come to the same conclusion. As we have already seen before, for Telly, it comes during the quiet moments when she allows herself to relive her memories, the images of her son and boy. And now that she’s learned to pay attention to his surroundings, she will notice another detail that had previously passed her by. The man standing by the plane, the one who pats her son on the head, he’s the same one that’s been shadowing them. The one we only know as A Friendly Man.

For Ash, it comes from an image more external than internal, one he’s able to hold in his hands. A discovery made while exploring the empty home. It’s a picture of a QuestAir hangar. And who else is standing there but its President – Robert Shineer – bearing the same face as the one who’s been hounding them.

Whoever or whatever he might be, their next step is clear: they’ve got to go to the airport, if not to find him, then at least to figure out how to get their children.

*    *

For various reasons – and as the result of a series of unforeseen events – Telly and Ash will come to be separated and Telly will once again find herself alone, this time believing that Ash has died. So, when her therapist appears by her side, she will allow him to take her away.

But when he tries to convince her that they need to go to the police rather than the airport as she and Ash had planned, she will put her foot down, giving him an ultimatum: either help her go to the airport or get out of the car. No longer does she have the time for any more games; neither does she have the patience for the blind faith of others that presume to know better than her. In the face of such determination, the therapist would seemingly have no choice but to comply.

However, once inside the hangar, Telly will finally learn the nature of the therapist’s involvement in the conspiracy that exchanges forgetfulness for the abducted. She discovers that he knows the man Ash saw in the photograph and whom she saw in her vision. The fact that the Friendly Man is at the center of this mystery comes as no surprise to the therapist, the one who had nearly convinced her that she was delusional. The list of betrayals only seems to multiply.

You’re one of those agents!
— No, I’m just one of the few who knows.
So you help them?
— They don’t need our help.
— They run their experiments with or without our help.
— They’ve been doing it for years. Maybe forever.
And you just let them do whatever they want?
— Let them? I don’t have a choice.
— We just try to minimize the damage.

Such are the limits of a therapist who’s in the know. A therapist, aware of the relationship between the memory and the dead, who merely seeks to help patients adjust to a reality already defined by erasure and absence. It should come as no surprise, then, that he doesn’t understand Telly’s persistence in trying to find her son; neither will he know how to help her in that task. In fact, so certain is he in what he takes to be the truth, he will say – quite cruelly – that she will never get her child back.

If you go any further, I can’t help you.
I’m sorry.

*

And so Telly will find herself more alone than she’s ever been before. No son, no husband, no lover, no therapist, no family, no friends. Even those who have offered assistance along the way – even if reluctantly or under duress – are also gone. And it’s with this knowledge that she walks deeper into the hangar, looking for the man who would seem to hold the key.

Finally, they will find themselves standing face to face. And even though he appears to hold all the cards, he regards her with a certain sense of awe. For she’s been single-minded in her search for the son she’s lost, never wavering in her belief. Never giving up on finding him once again.

You never doubted for a second, did you?
— He’s here?
He’s not just a memory, Telly.

She will treat his statement as if it were an invitation. Using it to return to the memories she has come to cherish of her son. Flashes of light that brighten her face, recalling the moments that came to define the life she shared with her child.

Ever watchful of what she’s able to accomplish – these workings of her memory – the Friendly Man will ask whether she can picture Sam there, not just in the faded colors of a time gone by, but in the present, there, with them. Curious about her abilities, perhaps. Or maybe guiding her in the uses to which they can be put.

And sure enough, the little boy appears, which impels Telly to give chase. Trying to catch up to the boy that has eluded her for so long. Always on the edge of time yet too distant to touch and hold. Filled with joy at finally seeing him in the flesh, she will run, calling out his name. As if the two of them were reliving a moment from childhood. Catch me if you can!

But soon, as the capaciousness of the hangar transforms into the jagged hallways of a endless labyrinth, this joyful game will turn into a nightmare. With her child repeatedly disappears behind walls and corners, the elusiveness will lose its appeal, and Telly will become increasingly desperate. As she begins to realize this may be just another ploy, her fear turns into panic.

When the Friendly Man puts an end to the charade, Telly will finally let loose on him, asking what kind of game he’s been playing. Demanding to know what he would want with her son, why he would be subjected to such a cruel experiment. And as they speak, she will come to recognize what she had never considered. That despite her systematic reasoning, there was one possibility she had never taken seriously, allowing it to pass her by, unnoticed.

He’s just a little boy! What could you possibly learn from him?
— Nothing.
This wasn’t about Sam? This wasn’t about the children?
— It was never about the children.
WE were the experiment!
— The connection, mother to child.
— Like an invisible tissue. We can even measure its energy.
— But we don’t fully understand it.

The true nature of Telly’s relation to this man – and his cruel experiment – is finally unveiled. His interest was never in the child. It was her memories that he was after or, more precisely, the connection between Telly and her son. A curiosity born of incomprehension. Treating her like a lab rat, so that he could investigate the bond that linked them together, drawing upon the energy that was stored there.

As Telly tries to escape, he will grab her by the throat, lifting her into the air, disabling any means of escape. His eyes, and the intensity of his gaze, will tell the whole story. He wants something from her, puzzled by what makes her different from the others. Wondering what it is about her that makes her so special. Why it is that she fights to remember. She’s already given so much – her child’s different incarnations through the ages, the different faces of her delight – but still he won’t let her go. There’s more that he wants.

You’re different from the others. Why?
Shhh. It’s better this way.
You won’t be haunted by his memory; you can have a life again.
Now. I want you to go back to the first time you ever saw [your son].
I need that first memory.
Give me that first memory!

As he holds her there dangling, unable to struggle and unable to escape, we will see that it’s not just the memories that he’s after. For in the end, they’re just images. Pictures from the past. Instead, he’s after her ability to feel, the love she has for her son. Robbing her – not of memory – but of her feelings. Feeding off her delight.

By now, we’ve already seen what it is that makes her special: it’s her ability to remember. Not a passive capacity, it should be said, but a talent she actively engages, allowing her mind to travel to other times and other places. Unshackled and unbound. We have seen it during her reveries while driving, when she finds new clues in her visions of the past, pieces of information that had previously eluded her attention. We have also seen it in her “meditations” at night and in the morning, times during which she allows herself a certain quietude, permitting the images to flow. Images that, over time, she has learned to cling to with less desperation, developing the kind of detachment that only comes with dedication and practice.

This kind of shift is readily apparent in the very features of her face. For it is during these times that it’s no longer etched with fear and panic; no longer strung out by the loss against which she’s been fighting. It’s also evident in a certain kind of ascension. From the sunkenness in which we find her at the film’s beginning through different stages of emergence. As if Telly were reenacting Psyche’s travels through the underworld, slowly finding her way back to Earth. No longer buried in sleep.

Since she’s unable to fight against the Friendly Man, her mind – and heart – will go to where he has demanded. To the first time she held her child in her loving gaze. So tiny, so helpless. Trembling in the cold and the light.

When he finally gets what he wants, what he’s been asking, he will drop her. And she will fall to the ground like a doll. Limp. Drained of memory. Robbed of feeling. As if the life has been sucked out of her. With her lying there, inert, the Friendly Man will ask about the boy once again, seeking confirmation for what he already knows: the fact that she no longer remembers.

With this information – knowing that she no longer has anything to offer – the whisper of a smile will cross his lips as he turns around and walks away, without so much as a backward glance.

What he hasn’t counted on, however, is precisely the skill she has honed during the course of this story. Her ability to sustain a certain kind of stillness, the precondition for her remembering. So as she lies on the ground, battered by the violence of his extractions, another image – another feeling – will make itself known to her. A sound. A heartbeat. The thumping of a life that existed within her. Not an image, not even a face. Something more subtle yet at the same time more certain. Something he would never be able to take away from her.

I had life inside of me. I had life …
I have a child. I have a son.
His name is Sam, you son-of-a-bitch!

And with this, what had previously seemed unthinkable, beyond the realm of possibility, actually comes to pass. The Friendly Man, the one who would rob her of her child – the very source of her ability to feel and delight – is pulled away by the heavens. The darkened hangar, the site of this confrontation, explodes with his departure. Blowing off the roof that had closed them off from the sky.

And finally, Telly will be bathed in light.

*    *    *    *

Because she’s not quite sure what it is that has come to pass, Telly will run back to her neighborhood, uncertain whether her child has been returned. First, she will go to the apartment she once shared with her husband, to see if Sam is there. Upon finding he isn’t, she goes to the playground instead. After a brief moment of panic, worried that she’s allowed herself to get carried away by an illusion, she finds him standing there, as if nothing had ever happened, as if he was never taken away. Unable to restrain herself, she snatches him into her arms, once again reunited with the child she thought was gone forever.

She will have to let him go, of course. Give him the space to live, to play, to breathe. And as she walks over to the edge of the playground to her favorite spot, who else does she find there but Ash, watching over his daughter. At first, it won’t be clear whether he remembers, or she will be uncertain if he does or not. So she holds out her hand to introduce herself as Telly, Sam’s mother. To which he replies, smiling, “I think we’ve met before.”

As the movie comes to a close, we will see the four of them there – Telly and her son, Ash and his daughter – each confident and comfortable in their relation to their children and, as a consequence, the other. And the site that previously served as their rendezvous in the darkest of nights is now transformed into a different kind place. One we might even dare call heaven.

And lest we remain confused about the nature of the battle that has been fought and won, it’s worth turning to the name of the child for which Telly has been fighting. For it’s not merely about the (biological) relation between mother and child. The name given to her son has a long history, one that speaks of the very nature of the divine, one radically different than the arrogation of power associated with A Friendly Man who, when given the chance, would aspire to the status of a deity. For the meaning of Sam is the very name of God as well as the requests made of him, God’s heart and his ability to hear. After all, when is it that we cry out God’s name, and who is it that arrives at that fateful moment? It is this which is Sam’s meaning – not some distant figure or a fleeting feeling dependent upon another – an inborn capacity which Telly can now call her own.

In the end, Sam – his physicality and his very being – belongs to Telly and her alone. He is her ability to sense and her ability to hear. He is her heart and her soul. Belonging to none other than herself.

And in finding him (again), she has found her home.
Sam’s Mom, Mother of God.

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~ by mistified on June 9, 2010.

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