I have been rather guilty of late of inflicting a stream of harrowing experiences on my partner (E.), a man so sincerely cheerful that he makes Disney seem pessimistic. Having signed up to an online DVD rental service, we seize our opportunity to broaden our minds through acclaimed cinema and add a dozen impressive titles to our list. Meanwhile, I mention that after E. finishes reading whichever The Girl Who Did Something Vaguely Rebellious he is on, he should try A Thousand Splendid Suns: a superb and deeply moving novel by Khaled Hosseini.
Soon afterwards, we find our first film has arrived: Precious, the story of an illiterate teenage girl who is pregnant with her second child by her father. We watch it, are suitably humbled and impressed, and pop it back in the post. At this stage, E. has begun the book I recommended. He comes home everyday with the heartbreaking details of the story etched upon his face, professing it to be one of the best books he has read, but that he cannot read it on public transport any more for fear of alarming passengers through his sobbing. A little worried about whether this will break his spirit for good, I tentatively mention that our next film has arrived: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
Both Precious and A Thousand Splendid Suns actually merit reams of non-flippant, heartfelt praise, and I urge anyone to seek them out. It is with a more sober tone that I want to say just a little about Julian Schnabel’s magnificent film and the book which inspired it- a work of art as remarkable for the mere fact of its existence as its beauty. The details of its creation are famous: immobilised by a stroke, Jean Dominique-Bauby communicated his memoir through blinking his left eyelid to indicate which letter he wanted his scribe to record. I had read the book a year or so previously, and seeing the film brought back in a rush the feelings of awe, sadness and inspiration that had struck me then. It sparks a thousand thoughts, but the one I wanted to briefly highlight was its encapsulation of why we read or watch things that make us sad. We do it to feel, to experience the breadth of human emotion and suffering that our comfortable lives thankfully do not habitually offer. We do it to realise the humour, hope and beauty that stubbornly flicker even in the darkest corners of despair. We do it, in short, to enrich our lives.
I only hope it doesn’t diminish my point to admit that Thor is next on our list.