When I watched the movie Blinded by the Light I had a visceral reaction to the protagonist, Javed. I understood his every word and his every struggle to define himself. I recognized his obstinate proud father and his emotionally torn mother. I was all too aware of the sense of dislocation of not belonging to the mainstream Anglo culture and yet finding no satisfaction with the cultural expectations at home.
Watching this movie made me feel validated and seen, even now in my 40s.
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” wrote Joan Didion.
However, Blinded by the Light is guilty of a ‘happy movie ending’ and those endings always leave me feeling sad. For me there was no ‘end point’ where my father and I understood each other, and differences of opinion melted away. To this day there is a cultural gap, a disconnect, that persists between my father and I which leaves us short of enjoying a full relationship. It brings into sharp focus that my father did not push pride and culture to one side to meet me halfway.
Blinded by the Light is the feel good movie that all your friends will tell you to see. It’s the classic coming of age story set in the UK town of Luton in 1987 where, Javed, a British teen Pakistani background not only clashes with his conservative father who is stuck in his patriarchal ways, Javed also struggles with the neighbourhood racists but also struggles to fit in at the predominantly Anglo populated school. An equally pained school friend introduces Javed to Bruce Springsteen and from there Javed is transformed into a young man who wants to take charge of his life, even if it means sacrificing his family.
Although this movie is set a world away and Javed has a different ethnic background to me I understood every word of his struggle; to straddle the obligations of an old world culture in the home and a new world awakening.
Growing up in a Greek family in the 80s was no easy ride when it came to navigating the world of home and the rest of world.
When you’re at an age where you can’t seem to find the words to clearly articulate how you’re feeling, music is often the solace we need. Like Javed, I found Springsteen’s lyrics to be inspirational and sometimes down right depressing.
We all have a song or two, or ten, that speaks to our soul but that’s another blog post.
What I most related to with Javed’s story was the tension that arises between Javed and his father that is centred on expectations; responsibilities to the family, subject choices at school, career choice after school, who your friends are. There is no individual decision here; in fact it’s barely decision by committee. It’s approval you’re often looking for. And when you can’t find a middle ground then the ultimatums come.
“If you walk out that door, you’re never coming back,” Javed’s father states.
How many times I had heard that!
It’s at this point you have to ask when did love walk out the door and the power struggle come in?
“My hope is to build a bridge to my ambitions but not a wall between my family and me”, Javed says.
I can understand Javed’s sentiment but it takes two to build the bridge, which is exactly what happened in Blinded by the Light. Javed’s father does some soul searching and helps build that bridge with Javed. I was not so lucky. And that’s the bit that stung watching this film. I never received acceptance for who I am and what I want to be, merely toleration. It was like my father and I hit a stalemate and we were just waiting for the passage of time to pass where I would eventually marry (that was another debacle) and I would no longer live in his house.
Movies have a way of tie up endings with a nice little bow because that’s what the audience likes. Now my life is no movie ending and any progress has been long and there are some things that can never be reconciled. There is a distance that will always exist between my father and myself. Even all these years later, he hangs on to his Greek way of life because that’s how he knows the world to be and perhaps lacks the courage to try. The arguments have lessened over the years, not because he has had a change of heart, but simply the passage of time and perhaps a dash of weariness on both our parts to fight the good fight. We now only ever engage in small talk. We have never learned how to talk.
As a friend pointed out to me, it was up to migrant children to teach their parents the new ways of this new world and it can be a burden because it requires questioning everything; what is right, what is wrong? And how do you make sense of everything?
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”