‘Lady Bird’ and coming home

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Lady Bird is obsessed with home.

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is constantly thinking and talking about where she comes from. Sacramento, her mom, her name, her friends… These things all make Christine who she is, and she’d literally like to be as far away from them as possible.

Christine wants so badly to be someone other than herself. She disparages Sacramento, desperately clings to dreams of attending an East Coast school that she has neither the grades nor the money to attend, wishes to live in the perfect blue house on the nice side of town, snacks on communion wafers as a joke, and even renames herself. Her wishes are big and loud. Everyone knows that Christine would rather be Lady Bird.

But Lady Bird’s confidence belies Christine’s insecurity. If Christine sees Sacramento as a cultureless place where dreams die, her desperation to escape is only an attempt to stave off a frightening future. The East Coast school will prove wrong everyone who tells her what a weak student she is and that her choices are limited. The blue house is a dream that feels better than living on “the wrong side of the tracks.” Her religious rebellions feel half-baked—those wafer snacks, after all, are unconsecrated.

But Lady Bird’s confidence belies Christine’s insecurity. If Christine sees Sacramento as a cultureless place where dreams die, her desperation to escape is only an attempt to stave off a frightening future. The East Coast school will prove wrong everyone who tells her what a weak student she is and that her choices are limited. The blue house is a dream that feels better than living on “the wrong side of the tracks.” Her religious rebellions feel half-baked—those wafer snacks, after all, are unconsecrated.

The quote from a sermon that plays over the opening credits floats underneath almost every action that Christine takes throughout the movie: “We’re afraid that we will never escape our past, and we’re afraid
of what the future will bring. We’re afraid that we will not get into college of our choice. We’re afraid we won’t be loved.”

In Christine and her insecure and unkind imperfection, I see myself in high school. Though I was never as bold or outwardly rebellious, I shared her desire to run away from my hometown. Hers is Sacramento and mine was suburban Wisconsin, but the sentiment was the same: Anywhere is okay, as long as it’s not here.

In Christine and her insecure and unkind imperfection, I see myself in high school. Though I was never as bold or outwardly rebellious, I shared her desire to run away from my hometown. Hers is Sacramento and mine was suburban Wisconsin, but the sentiment was the same: Anywhere is okay, as long as it’s not here.

I imagined my life in my faraway college town as something wholly different than what it had been growing up. I would attend college in New Orleans and take in all of the culture that entailed. I’d eat beignets, nap in Audubon Park, and tap my foot at trendy jazz lounges. I would soak up all the culture that I felt my hometown lacked, meet exciting new friends, make decisions without worrying about my mother’s approval, and create myself anew in a way that I couldn’t when burdened with the expectations placed on the self I had always been.

But you don’t want to be someone new if you’re happy with who you are. Just like Lady Bird, this strong desire to leave came from a place of disliking the self I was in high school. What my high school self and Christine both fail to grasp is that, no matter how much we might like to escape the identities that feel thrust upon us by our hometown or our mother, we are inextricably tied to them. If you take the place and the people that I come from out of my own personal equation, I am not myself anymore.

As soon as I got to New Orleans, all I wanted to do was come home again. I missed the crickets outside and the seasons and my friends, the church I went to, my Chinese lunch buffet, talking about Packer games on Mondays, Wisconsin accents, knowing my city by heart. I had always taken for granted the familiarity of home. Suddenly all the things that had made me feel as if I belonged in my place and rooted me to my town and Wisconsin and the Midwest signaled that I was an outsider. Before they had made me feel comfortable, without me even realizing it. Now they made me feel like I didn’t belong.

I had never realized I loved my “here” until I wasn’t in it anymore. And the self that I had daydreamed about didn’t materialize once I got to New Orleans. Beignets are too indulgent to eat more than sparingly. It’s too hot to nap outside. I never made it to a jazz lounge. I was afraid that the self I was in my hometown wasn’t good enough, and in doing so demonized the
place and people that made me who I am. But those fears were always more shadow than substance. I thought my home was a weakness, but it was a strength all along.

Christine finally realizes this at the end of “Lady Bird.” She gets to her East Coast school and she lives her college life, and in living it she finally wakes up. There is the literal waking up in the hospital, and it’s obvious that this wasn’t what she’d had in mind when she’d done her own daydreaming of what her “culture” would be like. As long as it wasn’t Sacramento, she thought this new place would be hers. But Sacramento is home.

Christine finally realizes this at the end of “Lady Bird.” She gets to her East Coast school and she lives her college life, and in living it she finally wakes up. There is the literal waking up in the hospital, and it’s obvious that this wasn’t what she’d had in mind when she’d done her own daydreaming of what her “culture” would be like. As long as it wasn’t Sacramento, she thought this new place would be hers. But Sacramento is home.

And then, after the catharsis of the ending, after all of the back and forth tug-of-war with her mom, the new place is a disappointment. And all she wants to do is call home and the one person she spent an entire movie trying to get away from. A living and literal representation of where she comes from.

Christine and I, in leaving, finally see what we had all along at home. We are trying to escape this person and this place from which we came. But in escaping we realize that person and place made us.

Thank you for making me who I am, Wisconsin. I’ll never leave you, no matter how far I go. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. I’m stuck with you, and you’re stuck with me. You made me. Sometimes you drive me crazy. But I love you. I love you.

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