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  • Writer's pictureJody Glynn Patrick

“Cake” – Aniston captures a bereaved parent’s struggle


Photo from site.

A posted summary of the movie Cake, released on Netflix: “After having visions of a member of her support group who killed herself, a woman (Jennifer Aniston) who also suffers with chronic pain, seeks out the widower (Sam Worthington) of the suicide.” Sound like a dark romantic comedy? Not quite, though another reviewer noted the “darkly funny” tone of the movie. Surprisingly, neither reviewer thought to mention the fact that Jennifer Aniston’s character Claire Bennett is suffering from pain caused by the injuries she received in a car accident in which her six-year old son was killed.

And by the way, there was nothing remotely comedic about the film.

Aniston played her character straight and raw, without benefit of her usual glamour makeup. She’s completely undone by the tragic experience of losing her child and she’s conflicted about later waiving off her husband, who’s greatest flaw seemed to have been also losing a son. Yes, she had significant back pain and a subsequent (legal) drug addiction to cope with that pain, but as the movie reveals, her greatest challenge was the loss of her son. Her rage comes out sideways sometimes, and the reason she fantasizes about the woman who committed suicide is because Claire is imagining different suicide scenarios of her own as a way of coping with her child’s death.

Yet reviewers shied away from acknowledging that central plot which, by the way, is not a secret plot twist at all. Their choice to omit that fact in the promos is telling, as if acknowledging the death of a child is going too far and would keep too many people from choosing to watch the movie. The Netflix preview also failed to mention the dead child, instead focusing in on Claire’s pain-addled “obsession” with the suicidal woman of her support group, a woman she’d scorned in life and didn’t really mourn in death.

I put this before you for two reasons: (1) I think the movie’s marketers were right: the general public doesn’t want to watch a movie in which a child has died — a reaction which only makes it harder for bereaved parents to find a support network, and (2) I think you might benefit from seeing the movie yourself.

Cake actually does take off the kid gloves to take on parental grief, the ruination of existing relationships, despair, self-medication, what it means to be ambushed by unexpected reminders of your child (though they are never truly out of mind), and flirtations with suicide. Sound familiar? And I think it successfully shows what a cat-fight it is to surface through your own ocean of grief, even for brief moments (let alone to accept it as a lifetime goal).

Cake also shows the difference one empathetic, committed person can make — in this case, it was Claire’s housekeeper — toward helping navigate the white water rapids that pull us under again.

If you’re up to watching Cake, let me know your reaction. Did the movie go too far, not far enough, or was it completely off center for you? Or did it tell it like it is for some of us? And I’d also like recommendations of other movies that also help express what we sometimes cannot. This is your community — join in with comments and suggestions. Thanks.

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