Little Women ★★★★★

hmm i debated about whether or not to share this because it’s quite personal but! who cares! the internet is only forever.

i sometimes get terrible panic attacks from being in a cinema - it’s a residual thing from a few years ago and i’ve learnt that unfortunately i can’t really control it. it’s slowly improved over time but every so often i sit down and just as the lights darken my heart rate doubles and i become hyper aware of everyone else in the room and i can’t move a muscle. i’ve seen whole movies and my only memories of them have been the pins and needles in my arms and the feeling of empty terror in my brain. it’s nasty and it’s extremely irritating and if i’m lucky it will go away on its own after about 20 minutes, but i always have to wait out the storm and hope that my concentration, memories and sanity will return eventually, even if that only happens when i walk out at the end.

it’s been a bit of an ordeal for me to see little women. i’ve been trying for weeks and it’s been my most anticipated movie of the year for months but, for a variety of reasons - the most serious being bushfire smoke so thick that either the cinema has been evacuated several times or, worse, the air quality is too hazardous for me to even go outside - it just hadn’t happened. i decided yesterday, a rare rainy day, that i was sick of waiting and so i went, on my own, into a cinema full of people i’m sure were also looking desperately to escape from the fire-ringed apocalypse dogging our home. so you can imagine my anger, sadness and dread when i finally, finally sat down to watch this movie and the lights went out and i felt that fat snake of panic rise, unbidden but immovable, inside my mind. not again, please fuck off, i’m asking nicely.

it’s difficult for me to describe what happened next. anyone who has ever experienced a panic attack will know that all your senses become heightened. suddenly you can hear your own lungs working and feel the individual fibres of the seat fabric under your hands and see individual wispy hairs on the darkened heads of people in front of you. the coughing of an elderly woman is as a scream and the crackle of opening snacks - snacks! - is a gun going off. panic forges absurdity from safety and farce from logic, which is probably why i find it so difficult to illustrate it without sounding like a shithead. anyway, this has been happening to me semi-regularly for almost five years, and in all that time there has never been anything capable of pulling me out of my own violent fright and into the paradise of someone else’s vision for two hours. never. instead i wait and i pretend to watch and i daydream about soon seeing daylight again. i also never mention it, ever, to anyone, especially if they’ve been there with me. (sorry if you are just finding out! please do not mention it to me if we are at the movies together in the future!)

so there i am, watching the opening frames of this movie i’ve been waiting for, about to cry from frustration that, after all the other experiences and thoughts its stolen, my own mind seems poised to revolt and take this one from me too. and then ... it didn’t happen. that’s the best way i can explain it. it just didn’t happen. i sat there, alone and full of unbridled panic, with my eyes screwed shut, convinced i was about to faint. and then, out of nowhere, i was not alone and i was not scared and i could see. the unstoppable force of my panic disorder had met, for the first time in five years, an immovable object. you see, little women is, in its very bones, so full of love and hope and overwhelming empathy that it managed to reach a hand out to me in a way even i could not. it felt like a reprieve and like a miracle, and i cried silently for probably the entire runtime. the film is particularly tactile - gerwig’s camera has a connate kindness to it that i’ve never seen before - and the strength of it was such that i truly felt, in a cooling cinema surrounded by strangers afraid of the fire and a mind incinerating itself, warm for the first time in a long, long time.

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