Many of you know I am originally from New Orleans, Louisiana. My native citizenship to the N.O. meant I was not going to watch “the Bowl that must not be named” this year. I am a dyed in lightweight cotton (never wool in that humidity) Fan of the New Orleans Saints. My husband and I went instead to see the movie “The Upside” with Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, and Nicole Kidman. The story hit me with its authentic portrayal of two men marginalized in our society. The story was funny, realistic, and touched a place deep inside me. From this Chaplain’s standpoint, this movie is one of the best at showing the development of a relationship between care-giver and care-seeker.
As a chaplain, I engaged Kevin Hart’s interpretation of his role as “Dell”. He possessed the natural ability to empathetically care for his quadriplegic boss, “Phil”, played by Brian Cranston. Dell is as much an enigma to Phil as Phil is to Dell, but there is a connection of improbability that promotes the relationship. It is because they are so different that the similarities jump off the screen as the story progresses. They are similar in their feelings of inadequacy as men. At one point, Dell and Phil discuss their relationships with their fathers; at that moment they recognize the similarities in their feelings. Dell is desperately trying to find his way out of an economically impoverished existence and provide for his family; Phil, wealthy, and successful, wants to die.
Dell identifies his feelings with awareness of his own existence from a sentient prism. By this I mean that Dell begins with a sensory understanding of his feelings. His development hinges on his ability to reflect and act in his relationships. Phil, on the other hand, in the early mornings, before others claim his unfeeling body for a day with therapy, runs from his feelings about his present condition. He relives his best, as well as, his most terrifying moments. Sadness and guilt are his emotions I identified through his fantasies. These emotions signaled a man in need of an outlet to finally cast off the shame of inadequacy that has caused him so much grief. Phil is unable to have a deep relationship until he experiences a fully engaged life. Dell’s magnanimous personality exudes acceptance and love.
He is the one who treats Phil like a person with dignity; one who is worthy of his time. Here is where the relationship becomes fascinating, funny, and very real. Care-giver and care-seeker morph into a true friendship built on their personal strengths and ability to swap roles. Dell is looking to find a lifelong call and means to support his family. Phil is a business expert. They cross over into each other’s worlds, exchanging ideas and history. They offer each other a safe place to be themselves. And at one point, in a moment heated with anger, they have a symbiotic relationship.
That relationship arose through Dell’s need to be in his world while offering it to Phil. This world exist apart from the penthouse Phil lives in. Dell asks him about the accident, not just the nuts and bolts version, but the version that expresses the man imprisoned inside an unfeeling body. Imprisonment is something Dell understands. Phil’s response to Dell is genuine and connects to a sliver of hope that life can be full regardless of the obstacles. There is an acceptance of each man for the other, which includes their truest nature of love and companionship. They teach each other how to live and how to see themselves as good. At the end of the movie, it is obvious that they have each helped the other heal.
Note from Ritamay: Great Movie, Great Story, and the acting was Off the Charts, really Good!