None of us ever really gets to start over. We only continue. I didn’t write that, stole it from a Washington Post review. Those twelve words best sum up my reaction to the film, “Prodigal Sons.” Saw it last night, an audience of just three at the indie film house I haunt.
First glimpsed Kimberly Reed while I was on the treadmill at gym, she a guest on Oprah. A stunning, very tall blond woman with an exquisite sloped nose and wide smile. Kim was born Paul (looked long and hard and never saw an Adam’s apple) and had recently completed a documentary of her return to Helena, Montana (after fully transitioning) for a high school and family reunion.
When I found the film was playing locally, made immediate plans to see it. I like others stories and this one Hollywood couldn’t write. You wouldn’t buy it, grandiose and nearly epic in its exploration of who we are, who believe ourselves to be and what happens when bodies or minds trap us.
I squawk frequently about change, about forward movement and reinvention. I believe it’s possible at any moment to change your mind and change your life. I felt an odd kinship to Kim Reed; half her life seemed to have never existed. She didn’t care to speak of who she was before gender transformation, only to say the skin didn’t fit then. Mine didn't fit for a very long time, either. So I hid, too. She asked family not to share old photos in new situations. It’s difficult sometimes to look back too long at where we came from, at who we were then rather than who we are (or believe ourselves to be) now. Including what others say, how they define(d) us.
Kim’s story is intriguing enough on its own, the handsome high school football star returning to small town America, easily accepted (it appeared) by most in her new body (and a bikini body it is, right down to the nipped Brigitte Bardot waist). Mostly the questions from childhood chums sipping Budweiser have to do with sexuality, not gender. Is she a lesbian or homosexual? A dyke or a queer?
A secondary storyline involving Kim’s adopted brother Marc at first plays as simple reflection on the theme of living in a body that doesn’t fit. After suffering severe head trauma in a car accident, his mood swings from sad sack to frightful aggression. He lives mostly in the past, speaks of high school as the best time of life, while in reality he woefully lagged behind the golden boy who could throw a spiral and got all the girls. The boy he wanted to be became a woman, a scrambled thought process that sometimes offensively computes. Marc’s true lineage comes to light in the second act and it’s stunning, so unbelievable the scenes are Fellinni-esque, right down to swimming in the waters off Croatia. Yet even that fails to ground him, fails to root or plant him.
Like Kim, I’ve disengaged a good deal from my past. So many family photos now stored in boxes in the basement, still in their frames. I was touched how this wholly nontraditional family rallied and kept hold of each other, albeit sometimes at arm’s length. Few stay, few hang on under much less intense terms.
The reason I'm drawn to documentary film, the reason I write and reason I ask a million questions is we all have something to share and something to learn. We are all teachers and students, most with the basic need to belong. After a really bad day at work, or jammed in traffic or pulling on impossible jeans in the Macy’s fitting room, hearing how another felt in the same, even trite, situation makes you feel less alone. More normal.
That you fit, worn edges and all.
"We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say - and to feel - 'Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.'"
-- John Steinbeck