There are a few things every woman should do in her adult life. One of those things is to watch the film “Puzzle”. I literally just finished it and and am sitting here in a daze over how impactful it was. It’s currently the holidays and my kids are away. I’ve been treating my home as a hotel and thoroughly enjoying my space to the fullest. One of my stay-cation activities has been a solo film festival. I haven’t turned on the TV much in a couple years, except to watch every episode of Bob’s Burgers for the 900th time. If you’re never seen that particular show, start today. It’s an easy way to act like you’re bonding with your kids, though to be honest, crawling into bed and lying under a blanket made of my sons while we watch TV, is legitimately the best part of my day. I physically ache for it.
Having come upon a full week of solitude, I was determined to watch something on the tube. I missed being engaged like that; lying on the couch like a beached whale and allowing the talking screen to entertain me. I have always been very selective with what I watch. Now that I think about it, I’m selective with what I read, what I wear, what I eat, and who I hang with. Perhaps I’m a better decision maker than I knew... It’s maddening when in my occasional attempts to watch a home movie, that there seems to be nothing but boring, idiotic nonsense to choose from. I’ll spend 45 minutes annoyed, only to abort mission and turn on more Bob’s Burgers.
This weekend so far I’ve been 3 for 3. “Puzzle” is the story about a meek, unseen housewife who is clearly grappling with unhappiness in her small town, repressive life. The lead actress, the subtly radiant Kelly Macdonald, out the gate shows signs of how she’s squirming under the surface of her skin. We can feel outside thoughts and feelings start to hatch and slowly bubble up, then we watch as they rise to the surface. The character’s name is Agnes. Agnes picks up a jigsaw puzzle by chance and realizes she’s excellent at doing them. The puzzles give order and purpose to her day. She feels a rush of accomplishment at having made hundreds of right decisions. Watching this woman come into her power by doing puzzles was a fascinating take on the lonely, misunderstood mother/wife human condition. Agnes is so stifled that she has to initially hide her newfound interest from her family. Unsurprisingly, when she does tell her husband about it he is unsupportive. She’s crushed but saw that coming. That spoke volumes to me. It’s so tragic when the concept of support is missing in a relationship. She wasn’t taking up taxidermy as a hobby, she was putting together a freaking puzzle. Why was it so hard for her supposedly devoted husband to be happy she carved out a small portion of joy for herself? The husband was a textbook simpleton family man who genuinely didn’t understand why Agnes needed to do more than church volunteer work and buy groceries. The resistance lies in her desperately needing to grow as a human and him being scared she’d exist in some space apart from him. There was a quick scene in which in the midst of her cracking open, something I clearly relate to, she’s checking out on the supermarket line. She just looked so excruciatingly aware. It was a brilliant several seconds. That’s what I want when I watch a movie; the misery, confusion, and ennui of an underdeveloped wife. Romantic comedies are as we say in Yiddish, “nisht far mir” (not for me).
Agnes answers an ad in which a puzzle competitor is seeking a partner. The two form a bond that teaches her pretty quickly who she is and how she must steer her life in a different direction. What moved me the most was the metaphors and symbolism found in puzzles. WHO. KNEW. The way humans walk around so fragmented, in a million pieces we struggle to fit together, but fail at it time and again. How when we do have those rare times when we feel like all our pieces match up in harmony, all it takes is for one outside circumstance to knock us to the ground and break us. How easily we are scattered. How one lost piece throws off the whole. How damn hard it is to focus and put ourselves back together, to take another crack at constructing our whole picture. How filled with promise we are when seeing a photo of the finished product on the outside of the box, this beautiful image we want to create. So we buy it to have it, only then to realize with grating frustration that building the darn thing is an overwhelming task that requires patience and logic. We give up, it’s too hard. Watching tv is easier. Shopping is easier. Doing nothing is easier. Humans don’t like things that remind us we can’t do them, so we blame the thing itself and jump ship (this stupid puzzle!!). But the thing is, like a puzzle that is meant to have all its little pieces fit together in unison to become a fully actualized picture, people are the same. We are meant to put ourselves together over and over. We have all the pieces we need. Only when Agnes began to play with puzzle pieces did she become aware of her human and female pieces. Her connection with her puzzle partner became her connection with herself. There’s a wondrous comparison at the beginning and end of the movie with her husband breaking a plate into pieces, but I don’t want to give too much away. I want you to watch it, think about that scene, then write to me to discuss. This movie pretty much summed up my own journey over the past several years, and I have no doubt it applies to many of you as well. We see each other in each other, that’s why we are obsessed with observing one another. It’s easier to watch it happen to someone else, right? Not really, no. It’s always harder to leave yourself in a box, untouched, with none of you interlocking. I’ll end this post by reiterating that this is a movie every woman should see. For Herself.