Peace, one and all…
For most of last week I was laid low by a particularly nasty cold/ear infection, which left me feeling completely washed out. During this time, I watched Nil By Mouth again on TV. For those unfamiliar, this 1997 film is a harrowing tale of life on a South London council estate, starring Ray Winstone and Kathy Burke. Nil by Mouth also has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest levels of swearing in film history: there are apparently some 428 references to the F-word. It’s a strong film, as one review made clear: ‘The film’s honesty is neither pretty, nor safe. This is a tough, tough ride’ (source).
There are many things I can relate to in this film – although it is of course a work of fiction (though see Gary Oldman’s comments in the Time Out review; see here too). It reminds me in many ways of my own formative years, though I grew up in East London (Hackney to be exact). Watching the film, I can see again through my mind’s eye the warmth of family, as well as the destructive impact of alcohol and drugs. I can relate to its realistic portrayal of the empty and casual violence that alcohol abuse can lead to – empty in the sense that it often seems to spring from nowhere-in-particular (almost as if it’s really an example of absence rather than presence). The film’s depiction of violence and laughter, of joy and sorrow, of the warmth and bitter cold of some relationships is one that is uncomfortable but one borne out by my own experiences at any rate.
The most bitter moment of the film is when Ray Winstone’s character beats his wife (played by Kathy Burke) senseless, causing to have a miscarriage. It has to be one of the scariest and most realistic, portrayals of violence I have ever seen in a film. It is an ugly moment, and one that we should all see, at least once perhaps. In the opinion of some, this film is a depressing tale of violence and addiction.
It is that, for sure, but it is also more than that. For me, the real story of the film is the enduring strength of its female characters. Although there is great suffering in this film, the central female characters endure it with an almost unimaginable fortitude; somehow they make it through, into another day. Somehow, and from somewhere, they find the strength to continue, to go on. I have seen this strength myself, on many occasions – and thus I see the truth reflected in this film.
I have seen and known many such moments, Ya Allah! I don’t want to dwell on such things – apart from anything else, because they are private to me and those who also lived through them. Yet, during these moments, it was always the strength of women that helped me get through. That is, the women portrayed in this film exhibit a strength I recognise and honour: the kind of strength that enabled those women to pick themselves off of the floor (sometimes literally) for the sake of their children and all those who depended upon them; the kind of strength that could rise above and live through physical weakness; the kind of strength that could offer comfort to others, when they could find none for themselves. Ya Allah! There were times when I thought my heart would crack and my very soul would split in two. But, even amidst those times of great darkness, it was the strength of these women that helped me to endure, that gave me the ability to hold on, that helped me to see a larger picture.
I honour the strength of women. Indeed, I would count myself blessed were I to possess an ounce of their endurance. Ya Allah! Where would I be without the strength of women? Where would I be without the endurance of those who raised me? It is not for nothing that Your beloved Messenger (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) said that paradise lies at the feet of mothers!