Thursday, July 21, 2022

Hope and Identity in Paris

Hope and dreams. Hard work and goals. A break from the ordinary. Day in and day out. Is it one or the other? Or is it a balance of both? Can you even have the one, day in and day out, without the other, hope? What is even the goal, aspiration for higher things or contentment with the ordinary?

These are the questions that come up in the latest adaptation of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. This was my first experience with the story; I haven't seen any of the other films or read the book. On one level, the film is a simple diversion, a pretty story with characters that are pleasant to watch and views that are beautiful to behold. Yet it's also gently stirring in its themes and contemplations. 

Mrs. Harris is a woman who has kept hope. Years after the ending of the war, she has kept hope that perhaps her husband might still be alive out there somewhere. And when she comes up with the idea of buying a dress from Paris, she holds the hope that this is an attainable dream. She believes in beauty and goodness. Her ability to dream is what upholds her through all of the years of hard, daily work. 

Her dreams sometimes shatter. Reality breaks into them, and things don't always play out the way that she had pictured. But does that mean that her perspective is off? What about the other characters? 

Along the way, we see the rich and wealthy also pursuing their dreams. They dream of acceptance and status. Instead of picturing how they will enjoy the elegant dresses, many of them simply imagine what the dresses will make them into. The circles they will be accepted into or the impressions they will give. Mrs. Harris, on the other hand, wants to wear her dress to the same old local dance that she could go to in any dress she already owns. She doesn't want the dress to make her into a new person: she wants it to enjoy it. There is something to be said for having something to look forward to. 

So when she experiences rudeness at the house of Dior, or when the Marquis tells her that she reminds him of the maid at his boyhood school, nothing has changed. It's disappointment that taints her experience, but it is nothing different from the role she has had for years. She works as a cleaning lady, and that is the way in which she interacts with the world of her daily life--and it remains when she goes to Paris. The dress did not change that. But the difference between Mrs. Harris and some of the other characters is that she didn't need the dress to change her. 

She enjoyed the experience of visiting Paris, of meeting the people there, of seeing the work rooms, and of having her dress made. And she enjoys getting to finally wear a Dior dress to the local dance. But through it all, she remains herself. It's the perspective she brings that made it all magical. She was eager and friendly towards everyone she met and always hoped for good. She took delight in the new things she got to see, and she appreciated the craftsmanship and artistry in the dressmaking. And she loved the way in which she could hope for something special, a designer dress, and then see it become a reality. 

Hope keeps us alive in our daily lives. We hope not that a certain circumstance will change everything about our lives and who we are. We simply hope for having the experience. Because if we depend on a particular circumstance to change who we are, then, well, we are poorly off indeed. Joy and hope must be independent of circumstances, or they are truly no joy and hope after all. 

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