Wednesday, 27 June 2012

RIP Nora Ephron: a reflection on death, romance and southern European politics.

At the risk of turning this infrequently written blog into an obit column, I wanted to reflect on the sad news that Nora Ephron has died.

Her films played in the background of my life as I became a woman , peopled by unforgettable female protagonists who were old enough to get served alcohol in a US bar and had three dimensions, at least one career and a string of sassy repartees.

That was before the soft patriarchy of low expectations (to coin a phrase) set in and screen women were turned into simpering semi clad perpetual teenagers, mainly playing the starved and joyless aspiring girlfriends of the Real Characters.

When Harry Met Sally in particular is one of my favourite films- I watch it every five years or so and I measure my reactions to it through the prism of different ages. It never gets old.

The wholesome, tiresome, quirky Meg Ryan (pre-surgery, pre joyless rictus grin of the compulsory teen ager) sobs inconsolably at the news of her ex' engagement: "And I'm going to be forty!" Billy Crystal replies: "Yes, in eight years' time!" You are totally with her when she shoots back: "But it's sitting there, waiting for me..."

Here is the gender war in one unassuming little exchange.

Men have no 'future gene', their inability to even imagine the future insulating them from fear, prudence, inhibitions. (My brother in law believed becoming a father would give him "time to write" on top of a full time job, if you can believe it. And off to the study he shuffled to write several novels while my sister's idea of time out became going to the loo sans enfant.)
Women, on the other hand, live with their sexual/reproductive/societal sell-by-date tattooed on their soul. There is nothing but future (calculations of how long it will take to accomplish things, sort stuff out, put on another washing, gestate, find another suitable male, how bloated will you be for the party in two days' time if you eat this muffin now, whatever) from the moment you open your eyes in the morning. Grim realism making us forever cautious, self defeating and prone to sacrifice ourselves preventively, whether someone has asked or not.

Ephron's movies were refreshingly about love, friendship, family stuff and not so much about status, money, material aspiration. Her characters got on with their generally fulfilling jobs and no one obsessed too much about ensnaring a millionaire. That was not the point. Although society was changing at that very time and becoming conspicuously more unequal Ephron reflected the sunny aspirations of a previous age. Wall Street did not seem to dominate everything and being a banker's wife was not yet the codified posh alternative to high class hooker.

But let's go back to death for a minute, lest I should be accused of excessive jollity. When I heard the announcement on the radio this morning they simply said she had died, aged 71. I immediately wondered: but what has she died of?

That got me thinking. What is the cut off point for death not having to be explained, contextualised in the language of lost battles with cancer and so on? Seventy one seems awfully young to simply leave it at old age being the cause of death, don't you think? I mean, seventy one is positively JUVENILE in Greek Cabinet or Italian tecnocrats' terms.

Why did she have to go and die like that? Who signed the memo, who processed the request? How can Nora Ephron, a woman who was writing about her worries about a lined neck only two or three years ago, be expectde know...decompose? How can one go from wondering if she can still 'get away' with wearing a polo neck to being old enough that death deserves no further explanation in that space of time?

Perhaps the truth is much more terrifying: people do die at 70, left right and centre and at the same time half of southern Europe (the insolvent half) is being run by male geriatrics who could keel off at any moment, yet remain unable to visualise the simple fact that death is indeed sitting there, waiting for them. Summit or no summit.