SMALL SCREEN

This weekend we’re watching: Post-pandemic parenting

By Tevya Turok Shapiro 26 February 2021

'Light of My Life' (Image courtesy of HBO/ Showmax)

'Light of My Life' is Casey Affleck’s post-apocalyptic drama about a father and daughter’s struggle to survive in the aftermath of a pandemic that wiped out the female population. It’s a pensive slow burn of heartfelt dialogue with poignant feminist undertones.

The first 10 minutes of Light of My Life are like a standalone short film which sets the tone for a feature film that follows. A father and daughter are snuggled up in a tent, calm, and comfortable, enveloped in their little world as if nothing exists outside.

“Would you like me to tell you a story?” he says sleepily.
“It’s about a … young … girl … fox …”.

He meanders his way through a cautionary tale about two foxes on Noah’s Ark, Goldie and Art, making it up as he goes along in that haphazard tired-parent fashion. You are immediately ensnared. Not by the silly improvised story, but by their endearing banter and authentic rapport.

The story is clearly an allegory for their situation and his fight to look after her, but as soon as it’s done, she calls him out – he promised a story about a girl fox, but as it went on, the story (which he decided halfway through was called Art’s Ark) unintentionally focused on the experience of the male fox, which mirrors his own. Even though it was about Art’s efforts to stay with Goldie and keep her safe, Goldie herself barely featured at all.

The point is made so subtly that you could easily miss it and chalk up the first 10 minutes as a playful embellishment, but it foreshadows the harrowing climax of the film. The layers of meaning to the ordinary conversations had in Light of My Life are what make it so intriguing and thought-provoking.

Light of My Life is a 2019 post-apocalyptic drama written, directed and starring Academy award-winning actor Casey Affleck. Affleck plays an unnamed father, struggling to protect his preadolescent daughter, Rag, in the aftermath of “The Plague”, a virus that killed almost every female person on earth.

Not every film in a post-apocalyptic setting is a smash-bang gun-slinging dude-flick. Light of My Life has no zombies or aliens or Mad Max-style scavenging petrol-heads, there are just men, and yet somehow that makes things seem all the more dangerous.

It’s a minimalist take on the survival flick, carved down to the bone. The details of The Plague are not really necessary. We don’t need action-packed flashbacks of the global collapse; all that matters is staying alive in the bleak dystopia that’s left behind.

With practically no women left on earth after the pandemic, keeping Rag safe from the “anger and loneliness” of men (as her father calls it) puts immense pressures on their little family. The pair rough it in the woods, running at the slightest hint of company and almost never coming into contact with others. Rag wears hats and baggy clothes, and her hair is cut short and scruffy so that she can pass as a boy if someone finds them.

‘Light of My Life’ (Image courtesy of HBO/ Showmax)
‘Light of My Life’ (Image courtesy of HBO/ Showmax)
‘Light of My Life’ (Image courtesy of HBO/ Showmax)

Now that we’re living through our own pandemic, their instant terror and anxiety at the sudden appearance of other people are even more relatable than when the film premiered in 2019. Rag gets a scolding just for trying on a jacket with sparkles on it that might give away that she’s a girl. In 2019 that might have seemed strange, but now it just reminds you of a kid in the supermarket refusing to wear a facemask.

As well as the unanticipated similarities to our reality in 2021, Light of My Life is an allegory of a young woman’s experience of coming of age in a man’s world. Rag, played by Anna Pniowsky is bright beyond her years, her nose always buried in a book, but without anyone to talk to besides her father she has a lot of questions.

Rag is trying to make sense of what it means to be a woman. She reads in an old magazine that a woman’s legs are supposed to be half her body length, and worries that hers are too short. “Do you know how long a woman’s legs are supposed to be?” her father tells her, “Long enough to reach the ground.”

But there’s only so much that Raising a Daughter self-help books can prepare him for as a single parent. When he stammers through an awkward “birds and the bees” explanation, Rag bares it stoically, and you can see the huge emotional toll that it takes on her to be so alone.

Their vulnerability is mirrored in the cinematography. Often they are filmed from afar, two powerless figures, exposed in the vastness of the British Columbian woodlands where the movie was shot. The unobtrusive score guides you towards an empathic understanding of their melancholy, love and fear.

Light of My Life has a cautious pace that can occasionally come across as indulgent or slightly self-conscious – it tries hard to be fine cinema. But it still succeeds. The body of the film is made of heartfelt dialogue and muted moments of human connection that command your attention in their confident quietness. The pair’s acting is understated in a way so believable that it’s not particularly impressive – because it seems real. The intimacy and familiarity of their relationship are spellbinding, and the delicate feminist narratives it weaves make it a pensive watch. DM/ ML

Light of My Life is available for screening in South Africa on Showmax.
You can contact This Weekend We’re Watching via [email protected]

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