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Shirley Valentine

September 11, 2015

SVShirley Valentine is a “woman of spirit.” Though wavering and initially uncertain as to whether to join her friend Jane on a trip to Greece, she has the guts to go. Jane leaves Shirley to fend for herself for the first part of the holiday, but Shirley finds her feet, comforted by her speaking to the rock on the beach — an echo of her talking to the kitchen-wall at home. She confronts herself, “finds herself” again, being able to reassess, in middle—age, where the last 20 years have gone. She reviews her life, the loss of her youthful vigor, and the relative loss of a carefree approach to life which she and Joe, her husband, had enjoyed. She ponders what Joe has become. In allowing herself to be seduced by Costas, she retains control of herself to the extent that she finds her freedom again — this is what she wants. She also loses control in the sense that she rediscovers the positive dimension of “letting go” of herself. …

It addresses questions, and offers tentative answers, about the spiritual resources which human beings require, and reveal themselves as possessing or receiving, in order to be able to handle seemingly ordinary, but demanding, issues of human interrelationship. …

When about to leave for Greece, in the midst of her own reservations about the consequences of her actions — shared before God — she utters a genuine intercessory prayer: God. God, I know . .. I’m bein’ cruel, an’ I know I’ll have to pay for it. when I get back. And I don’t mind payin’ for it then. But just . . . just do me a favour, God, an’ don’t make me pay for it dunn’ the two weeks. Keep everyone safe. Please.

More prominent, though less obviously prayer, are Shirley’s conversations with the wall and the rock. These are, at the very least, necessary externalizations of herself, or means of self-examination. They may be negatively construed as cries for a relationship which she generally does not enjoy with other human beings at this point in her life. But they are aspects of the relationship with herself, which Shirley needs to rediscover, which merit closer scrutiny. More positively, they may be construed as a form of “therapeutic meditation”….

Shirley’s quest for freedom can be examined from the perspective of the experience of God as Spirit. Much is made in the film of Shirley’s loss of freedom since the days when she was Shirley Bradshaw. Either marriage itself has inevitably proved restrictive, or Shirley has allowed marriage to stifle her. The title song of the film (“The Girl Who Used To Be Me”) announces from the outset the theme of flying as freedom; flying away to Greece, yet also rising above her present situation in order to examine it. The film begins to consider the implications of her actions (going to Greece, becoming involved with Costas) and thus prevents her flight becoming a form of sheer escapism. It does not go far in this direction. But in delivering an ambiguous ending — it is not clear that all things will be well and that Shirley and Joe will even be reunited (i.e. the quest for freedom is not simple) — the film’s treatment of the subject provides resource-material for a careful examination of the nature of human freedom. Above all, the film poses the question of the origin and nature of the resources e.g. the power of personal reflection and self-analysis, inner strength) upon which this quest for freedom is based. ….

The quest for relationship …It is not wholly clear that Shirley wants Joe any more. She is unlikely to leave him. She will make do. But she longs for him to be more the fun-loving Joe she knew when they first met. Her reflection on their early relationship borders on the nostalgic, yet expresses a present need in her too: she has lost a fun-loving side to her. Her relationship with Jane is more of a release, a safe place where she can be more herself. That relationship mirrors earlier “nights out with the girls.” But Jane’s fickleness only emphasizes Shirley’s aloneness. Shirley’s contact with her daughter (Millandra) and daughter’s friend (Sharron-Louise), though representing on Shirley’s part a further attempt to recreate a lost past, only emphasizes the cultural and age gap between them. Shirley lacks satisfying relationships in a number of directions. However self-seeking his own motivation may have been, Costas fills the gap and enables Shirley to have an immediate (sexual) need met, in a way which spurs on her general reassessment of who she is both as an individual and in relation to others. …;

If what Christians claim of God in relation to the Spirit is true,…then the Spirit of God must not be evident only in so—called “religious experiences.” The film itself invites the dialog, given what Christian theology says about the workings of God as Spirit. ….,

We begin by addressing Shirley’s praying. In the words of the Apostle Paul “… the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). …..God supports the flagging spirit, and brings to voice the human cry, be it for release from oppression or for restoration of lost relationship. This illuminates well Shirley’s “cry from the heart” in her feelings of uncertainty about going to Greece (wanting to do it, yet knowing there’ll be negative reactions later), and in her intercession for her family. Perhaps neither she nor Russell can say where such a cry of the spirit comes from. But Paul’s insight suggests that deep in the human soul! spirit the divine spirit is at work. In that partnership at depth, the spirit of God helps people to pray. Shirley herself experiences what the Ulanovs call prayer as “primary speech” Prayer is not just primary speech, image-laden and without sound. It is also ordinary human talk that addresses an other in familiar conversation about familiar things. Critics of prayer accuse those who pray of narcissistic withdrawal, of merely communing with their own wishes and fantasies, hiding from the tough problems and insoluble conflicts of the world….

Her “prayer,” however, as we have seen, takes on other forms than petition (praying for herself) or intercession (praying for others). Her talking to the wall and to the rock is not strictly conversation, for neither object talks back. But is prayer always (or ever?) conversation in Christian understanding? Christians may stress that prayer is about a two—way relationship: “we talk to God, God talks to us.” But the word “talk” in the second clause of that rather easy slogan is arguably less concrete than its use in the first, if not indeed wholly metaphorical. The sanity of people who “literally” hear the voice of God is often, rightly, brought into question. Perhaps, then, reading Shirley’s talk to the wall and to the rock as prayer is far from illegitimate. Indeed, Christian understanding of contemplative prayer may well provide a clue to what Shirley is doing.

Jürgen Moltmann writes: There are many definitions of meditation and contemplation, and many distinctions have been made between the two. For my own practical purposes I would interpret meditation as the loving, suffering and participating knowledge of something; and contemplation as the reflective awareness of one’s own self in this meditation. In meditation, people submerge themselves in the object of their meditation. They are wholly “absorbed” in it and “forget themselves.” The object is submerged in them. In contemplation, they recollect themselves. They come back to themselves after they had gone out of themselves and forgotten themselves . . . there is no meditation without contemplation, and no contemplation without meditation. But if we want to understand the two, it is useful to make this distinction….

The “object” of Shirley’s meditation and contemplation is not, of course, the wall or the rock. In the same way as an icon, though itself worthy of veneration, is not the ultimate focus of devotion, the wall and rock are means through which Shirley attains a degree of self-understanding. The true object of her meditation and contemplation is the desire for relationship, or an as yet unknown other to whom Shirley wishes to relate. In no sense does she appear to think of this “unknown other” as God. At issue, though, is whether the source of her desire for relationship, and the spiritual empowerment of Shirley to move beyond her conversations with wall and rock to express herself and to find more whole and authentic relationships, are not best understood and described as the divine work of the spirit.

Shirley’s unwitting practice of prayer thus links directly to her desire for relationship. The promotion of relationship is itself consistently seen throughout Christian tradition as the work of the spirit of Go). In a recent work of Christian systematic theology, for example, Stanley Grenz locates himself firmly in the Western Augustinian tradition which understands the Spirit to be the relationship between Father and Son within the Trinitarian nature of God. ….

The Spirit in Christian theology has symbolized release and free expression in individual experience …. the desire for order and control through the work of the Spirit in human affairs. Shirley can only experience her own release through the costly (and irrational) risk-taking of her flight to Greece and the challenge to the institutional structure of her own marriage through her brief encounter with Costas. Whether the specifics of her actions can be said to be “the will of God” is open to question. But the work of the Spirit, as the spirit of freedom, nevertheless presses her to break out of her present situation, as a direct result of her prayer and quest for relationship. On this understanding, the Spirit as the spirit of freedom is none other than the redemptive spirit of Christ, who rescues (saves) people from what constrains and crushes them …

Shirley probably does believe in the God she prays to, as a result of her own residual Liverpudlian Christianity. Explorations in Theology and Film p. 21, 193f Clive Marsh

I preached about this film

[bored by dinner conversation] Shirley Valentine: It’s a good job we’re not having soup, or else I’d put me head in it and drown meself.

SV 2Shirley Valentine: I think sex is like supermarkets, you know, overrated. Just a lot of pushing and shoving and you still come out with very little at the end.

Shirley Valentine: I’m not sayin’ she’s a bragger, but if you’ve been to Paradise, she’s got a season ticket. She’s that type, Gillian, you know. If you’ve got a headache, she’s got a brain tumor.

Shirley Valentine: I’m not sayin’ he’s bad, my fella. He’s just no bleedin’ good.

Shirley Valentine: What happened?  Who turned me into this?  I don’t want this.  Do you remember. . . . Shirley Valentine?  She got married to a boy called Joe an’ one day she came to live here. . . .  They got married, they made a home, they had kids. . . .  And somewhere along the way the boy called Joe turned into “him” and Shirley Valentine turned into this. . . .  I can’t remember . . . when it happened.  When it stopped bein’ good.  When Shirley Valentine disappeared, became just another name on the missin’ persons’ list.

Shirley Valentine: Joy”likes everything to be as it’s always been.  Like his tea always has to be on the table as he comes through the door.  If the plate isn’t landin’ on the mat, there’s ructions.”

Shirley Valentine:I don’t know why I stay. . . .  But I’ve been talkin’ to the wall for more years than I care to remember now.  An’ I’m frightened.  I’m frightened of the life beyond the wall.

Shirley Valentine: That’s right, Millandra, I’m going to Greece for the sex! Sex for breakfast! Sex for dinner! Sex for tea! And sex for supper!
Van Driver: Sounds like a fantastic diet, love!
Shirley Valentine: It is, have you never heard of it? It’s called the “F” plan!

Young Shirley Valentine: Well, tickle my tits ’til Friday!

Shirley Valentine: I mean, most fellas ya know, they’ve got no idea how to talk to a woman.
Costas Caldes: No?
Shirley Valentine: No. They feel they have to take over the conversation. I mean, I mean with most fellas if you say something like, like my favorite season’s autumn, they go oh, oh, my favorite season’s spring and then you’ve got 10 minutes of them talkin’ about why they like spring and you weren’t talkin’ about spring, you were talkin’ about autumn. So what do you do? You talk about what they want to talk about. Or you don’t talk at all. Or you wind up talking to yourself.

[first lines] Shirley Valentine: Hiya Wall.
[to the camera] Shirley Valentine: Well what’s wrong with that? There’s a woman three doors down talks to her microwave. Talking to a microwave! Wall, what’s the world coming to ?

Shirley Valentine: Aw God, oh, Jane, I look like the back end of a tram smash.

Shirley Valentine: Jane divorced her husband. I never knew him, it was before I met her. Apparently she came home from work unexpectedly one morning and found him in bed with the milkman. Honest to God, the milkman ! But from that day forward I’ve noticed she never takes milk in her tea.

Shirley Valentine: So, just think how exciting it’ll be if for once you had it at a quarter past six. It’d make headlines. “World exclusive: Joe eats late.”

Shirley Valentine:Well, that’s when I started laughin’.  I ended up . . . I ended up rollin’ on the kitchen floor. . . . But I couldn’t stop laughin’ because I knew then.  I knew I was gonna do it.  I knew I was gonna go to Greece.

Shirley Valentine:most important “holiday romance . . . is with meself.”  As a result, she is now “alive . . . . there in the time she’s livin’ in,”

Shirley Valentine:”fallen in love with the idea of livin’.”

Costas kisses Shirley’s stretch marks and calls them “lovely . . . because they were a part of me. . . an’ I was lovely. . . .”

Shirley Valentine: Costas “never made y’feel at all threatened.  An’ he understood how to talk with a woman.  That’s the first thing I noticed about him.”

[last lines] Shirley Valentine: [at sunset, Shirley sits at a table at the edge of the beach as Joe approaches up the road carrying a suitcase] Oh, I hope he stays for a while. He needs a holiday. He needs to feel the sun on his skin and to be in water that’s as deep as forever.
Shirley Valentine: [Joe walks straight past her without any recognition, she turns and speaks from behind him] Joe.
Joe Bradshaw: I didn’t recognize ya.
Shirley Valentine: I know. I used to be The Mother. I used to be The Wife. But now I’m Shirley Valentine again. Would you like to join me for a drink?
Joe Bradshaw: Er… thanks.

Shirley Valentine: I think that marriage is like the Middle East – there’s no solution.

Shirley Valentine: I know, I’m wicked aren’t I?
Shirley Valentine: I enjoy a glass of wine while I’m preparing the evening meal… Chips and Egg

Shirley Valentine: I was never really interested in school after that.
Shirley Valentine: I became a rebel.
Shirley Valentine: I used to wear my school skirt so high you would have thought it was a serviette.
Shirley Valentine: I was marvelous.
Shirley Valentine: I used to exude boredom from every pore and I hated everything.

About his dramas of escape and self-discovery, Russell has said, ‘every play I have ever written has, ultimately, been one which celebrates the goodness of man. . . . It is the goodness that I hope the audience is left with.  I really don’t want to write plays that are resigned, menopausal, despairing. . . .  I don’t want to use any medium as a platform for displaying the smallness and hopelessness of man.  Man is man because madly, possibly stupidly but certainly wonderfully, he kicks against the inevitability of life.’ A Study Guide  Prepared by  Martin Andrucki Professor of Theater, Bates College

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From → Film, Spirituality

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