The Reel World: The look

When I arrived at Tufts, I thought of a movie that parallels the point where I am in my life, as I often do. This time, I couldn’t help but recall the ending of “The Kids Are Alright” (2010). The situation, the final goodbye before I enter college, is the same, except I’m not Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, and Annette Bening and Julianne Moore aren’t my moms (tragic, I know). Wasikowska’s character Joni watches her family members as they leave, but she quickly turns around. She then looks out at the quad next to her with squinted eyes that soon widen and pursed lips that curl into a fleeting smile.

In all her films, Wasikowska shows that expression, and when I saw “The Kids Are Alright, I was puzzled. It’s a look that says something different whenever it appears. In the film, I thought she felt conflicted but excited — like she hoped she was ready for college and each twist it would present, but she also hoped to enter a world where anything could happen, and there was nothing that she could prepare for.

When Wasikowska played the title character in “Jane Eyre” (2011), the expression reappeared, but it communicated something different, saying, “The world has wronged me, and though I won’t forgive it, I will move on.”

It was not until earlier this summer that I felt like I understood her look, and it was because of another of Wasikowska’s films, “Tracks” (2013). She portrays a young woman called Robyn who begins a trek across the Australian Outback, seeking solitude and a purpose-driven experience. National Geographic finances her journey in exchange for writings and photos taken by one of their photographers, played by Adam Driver. Robyn initially considers him an intruder, but she comes to appreciate his presence, and he becomes an important part of her journey.

Watching a scene in which Robyn stares out at the vast, unforgiving landscape in front of her with the look plastered across her face, I had my own “a-ha!” moment. She is interrupted by Driver’s character, but for the first time, she is not bothered. I realized exactly then what the look meant to me, entering college and leaving my old life behind.

Like the outback for Robyn, I often felt that college would be a place of solitude — not from my friends, of course, but perhaps I subconsciously thought that Tufts would be somewhere I would spend time thinking and forming new opinions about the world alone. However, Driver’s interruption and Robyn’s realization that he is an indelible part of her journey reminded me that college is not somewhere I should be alone in any sense. Maybe, I thought, instead of holing myself up in Tisch like a weird, depressing hermit, I’ll go out and, as Mom always said, shine my little light for everyone to see (advice that may have been given to me at age 5). And who knows, maybe I’ll meet Julianne Moore.


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