Independence Day has taken on a deeper meaning after watching the film My Brilliant Career. Now I’m thinking about independence as it pertains to our personal need for freedom and self-exploration. Sybylla, the leading character, defies the stultifying expectations set for her in late 19th century Australia. She’s a daydreamer, a musician, and a writer. Like anyone with multiple interests, it’s important to continue with creative expression and develop as an artist, hopefully with some emotional support, before narrowing in on a true passion, something that could parlay into a brilliant career. Sybylla not only lacks support, but she must actively resist pressure to conform to notions of femininity. She must stand up for herself when others mock her aspirations, and nurture her own potential in a place where opportunities for women go to die.
The cinematography in this film is gorgeous. I loved the scene of Sybylla sitting in a boat, holding a red parasol and the scene in which the pillars of the house seem to section off three characters sitting on the front porch.
Sybylla is consistently reminded that her looks do not measure up against other ladies’, but I thought she was quite beautiful. Sybylla’s hair is a wild mass of untamable frizz that brings to mind the stormy weather and the thrashing willow trees of the opening scene. She doesn’t tie rags in her hair to create perfect ringlets like her sister at the beginning of the film. I suppose ideas about what constituted an attractive woman rested in the inflexible roles women were given and how graceful their transitions were from demure virgin, to dutiful wife, to doting mother. If a woman resisted those roles, her perceived attractiveness and reputation, would be tarnished.
I recognized the love interest, Harry, as the actor who played the skeptical paleontologist in Jurassic Park. The leading actress, Judy Davis, was not recognizable until I searched her name. Then I saw she acted in Barton Fink, playing the ghost writer, who tried to help Barton Fink as he wrestled with the maddening task of writing a screenplay about wrestling. I enjoyed her performance in Barton Fink and I delighted in the passion she brought to her character in My Brilliant Career.
My search to learn more about Judy Davis also dredged up some misogynist drivel. But that shouldn’t surprise anyone. In the song, “People are Strange,” Jim Morrison croons, “Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted.” I’m not a fan of The Doors or Jim Morrison, but that line is absolutely true. Being unfairly cast as wicked, or being called a “bitch,” unfortunately is the price many women pay for being independent.
Happy Independence Day, everyone. Enjoy your freedom.