HAVANA TIMES — In a remote town lives a 40-year-old woman, beautiful still. She is a simple housewife who looks after her husband and teenage kids. Her work in the house and the farm is all she knows.
By chance, she meets a National Geographic photographer who’s come to take pictures of the covered bridges in the area.
The Bridges of Madison County is a US film released in 1995, starring Clint Eastwood (who was also the director) and Meryl Streep. It is based on a novel by Robert James Waller.
Their friendship and mutual sympathy lead to a romantic relationship. It sounds like a typical love story, but the attraction they feel towards one another goes beyond the physical. They feel a spiritual communion, something which doesn’t happen every day. He invites her to go away with him to travel the world (his job demands that he travel frequently). She is torn between the desire to leave with him and her sense of responsibility towards her family.
What would have happened, I wonder, if the story had unfolded differently? If they had fled together, leaving behind social conventions, fear and regret? No one knows. It would have been a completely different film.
One could, nevertheless, delve more deeply into the woman’s stagnation in life. Before becoming a housewife, she was a teacher. She quit her profession at the request of her husband, had children and gave up on any intellectual and social aspiration.
Along comes this character and unexpectedly becomes a kind of crutch for her, allowing her to see how she has grown isolated and unable to confront what has remained hidden through the years: routine existence, dependence and silence. This man makes her feel younger. His optimism is reflected in the way he combs his hair, in the fact he buys her a new dress, in a long bath where an erotic side to her she did not know flourishes.
She begins to see signs both within and without. She realizes she is a human being, someone who is merely demanding the space that was taken from her or didn’t know how to retain. She is walking on a thin rope, and there are only two alternatives: either she stays and continues to be the devoted wife and mother, or she leaves with her lover, becoming a woman who makes decisions (and mistakes, with all their consequences).
Why does she not look for a third alternative? Why does she not tell her husband and children the truth? That could get her out of her impasse: building something, not tearing everything apart.
That could have been a road to follow, but Francesca does not choose it. She continues to live in her familiar universe, changing nothing. The photographer waits for her, pointlessly.
She retains only the beautiful portrait in her imagination, letters and dust that will rejoin the two later, after death. That is the end of the film, a message to her kids: that they ought to hold on to what they love. But is that the only thing that’s important?
To cease being oneself to become what others expect of one, this is a sad road that ultimately leads to pain, a pain that will inevitably flourish in some form. It is better to speak one’s mind and to show others the way one is, without altering the inner universe where we own every thought. One must choose to be unique, for ourselves and others.
This is a delicate and complex issue that requires reflections. These bridges, this story, serve to portray human experiences in which sacrifice effaces one’s freedom, and through which we assume complacency and inaction as a normal state.