This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
josh lewis’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
just over four years ago, in my senior year of high school, i was driving home from my part-time job, speeding down the local hwy trying to get home as fast as possible so i could maybe finish watching a movie before i needed to get some sleep. it couldn't have been any later than 11pm but it was dark & dreary enough that my mind keeps trying to convince me it was closer to 1am. regardless, i didn't get home as fast as i thought i would. about halfway home i noticed shining spots on the road ahead, at the time i thought my eyes were fucking with me but it didn't take long for me to realize my headlights were reflecting off of shards of glass -- a lot of them. as i got closer my headlights reflected off of a maroon SUV, beaten up a little but mostly intact, and my mind slowly filled in the rest as i unconsciously pulled over.
still in my work uniform, i got out of my truck & began to look around, not noticing how cold it was even for early march. it took a bit for my eyes to adjust to the darkness and even when they did i was a little slow processing what i was looking at but i was strangely calm. this was my first experience with an accident, let alone being the first one at the scene. i could hear a muffled voice coming from inside the SUV while an older woman paced back and forth behind it -- the look on her face was all i should've needed but i went around to the far side anyway & i caught a glimpse of what it had hit; a small volkswagon. it was difficult to tell what exactly had happened by the placement of the vehicles but it was clear enough that a head-on collision had taken place.
i stared at the totaled volkswagen for a few seconds - it was dark but i thought i could make out the arm of the driver - before realizing that no one had called 911 yet. i looked back at the SUV and saw an older man in the driver's seat talking to himself while two young women looked on from the backseat, seemingly unsure how to react. none of us were moving. i pulled out my cellphone and called 911 as another two vehicles pulled up and stopped behind me, as i started walking back towards the SUV, fumbling over my words trying to explain the situation. "can you tell us how many of you there are?" quick math in my head said 5, including me, but not including anyone in the volkswagon. "do you know the status of anyone in the other vehicle?" i didn't. but before they could even say "help is on the way" a piercing scream drowned everything else out. i dropped my phone. "WHAT DID I DO?! ... WHAT DID I DO?!" the older man was shouting, smacking his palms on the steering wheel.
i had never heard a person make the noises this man was making. i picked the phone back up. "what's going on?" i tried to explain but i wasn't really sure. one of the other drivers who pulled up at the scene behind me asked if i had check on the volkswagon driver and i didn't so a few seconds later we found ourselves slowly making our way towards the car, the front end was crushed in but i could make out someone in the driver's seat -- turns out i could see his arm earlier. it was the longest 30ft i've ever walked. when i finally made it to the driver's side i reached out to tap the man's hand before my caught the back seat of the driver's side & i realized it was no longer attached to his body. it appeared the front end of the car was in the driver's seat now, and anything in the front was now in the backseat. i was still thinking about the man's screams.
needless to say, i retreated as fast as i could and vomited on the side of the road. luckily i didn't have to describe what i had just seen to the man on the phone as the ambulances, police cars and firetruck pulled up to the scene as well as a few more drivers who were also blocked by the wreckage. by this time the older woman had managed to calm the man in the SUV down but i was shaking as i tried to explain everything again to the officer on scene. he was kind enough, asked if i needed a ride home (i said i didn't, but in retrospect i really should've accepted) and gave me a card to call if i had anything else to say or needed to talk. i never called.
when i got back in my truck i sat there for about 5 minutes, not really sure what to do next. i watched as the emergency crews shut down the highway which meant i'd have to take the long way home. at home, still shaking, i had to explain my evening a third time, to my parents. i obviously left out some of the details, the ones i wasn't keen on processing any further than i already had. the idea of saying them out loud terrified me for some reason, like it finalized them or something stupid like that. i didn't sleep that night. i don't think i even really tried. that man's screams kept ringing in my head all night.
the following days are kind of a blur. i never really told anybody about what had happened or what i had seen and tried my best to focus on other things, like school, but it didn't work. i read about the accident online so i could put names to the faces still stuck in my head. the man in the SUV was taken to the hospital in serious condition, apparently, but he was fine, while the man in the volkswagon obviously passed - turned out he was a 39-year-old steel worker on his way from his son's hockey game earlier that night. i read his obituary sometimes.
you're probably wondering why you're reading this on a social media site for film lovers, and i don't really know what to tell you other than that i sometimes still have nightmares over this 20 minute sequence of events in my life -- i think about them all the time & years later i still don't fully understand what they mean or what any of this says about me. all i know is that kenneth lonergan's post-9/11 coming-of-age drama Margaret is the only thing that's ever captured the feelings i felt that night, and the days/weeks/years after -- the overwhelming suddenness & confusion, the desperate but pointless grasping afterward, the defeated sadness of not really knowing how to react and, interestingly, the selfishness of making an event like this about yourself. i did it just now, in writing about it (and all those nights i pitied myself) because it's the only way i understand the events i'm referring to, but lonergan is interested in more than just how a horrific bus accident affects the young lisa personally, but also the larger indifference the world gives back to her in return. (watching lisa suffer as she selfishly tries to work through her experience is painful but not unsympathetic either.) it's strange to think that a movie that rips these difficult feelings out of me & also, on some level, critiques me, works so well for me but it does. this film helped me contextualize an event i never thought i could resolve, and since the first time i watched it -- a year ago now -- there's been a notable decrease in nightmares. i still don't fully understand why, but i'm more comfortable with that now.
it goes without saying that this is a cinematic catharsis i've only experienced once, and as if it couldn't get any more personal for me, the film concludes with lisa being confronted with her decisions and working through the accident & her feelings by having a piece of art tear them out of her.
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.