Reflections on ‘Everything I Never Told You’ by Celeste Ng and Arrival (directed by Dennis Villeneuve)

I started off with ‘on familial love: a review on ‘everything I never told you’ by celeste ng’ and then I stopped. It didn’t feel right, because while the plot of the book might have been about family and relationships between family members, I don’t think it was love. It was more of familiarity and growing up together and parents expecting too much of their kid. A singular kid, neglecting the other two. I didn’t want to type ‘death of a loved one’ because what is love if it drives a kid to unhappiness?

Then I remembered ‘Arrival’ yesterday, it had this idea of continuing with something even though the results were bound to be bad. Lumping fondant on badly baked cakes has no serious repercussions, but continuing with marriage plans or family plans when you know that the end will hurt everybody is a tough decision to make. In that show the main character named Louise could see into the future, and she realised that the aliens she was corresponding with gave her the gift of seeing time differently. Through her, humanity started communicating with the aliens. By the end of the show Louise realised that if she were to follow the flow of things, she would give birth to a child named Hannah who would later die of cancer in her teenage years. She made the decision on her own anyway.

Arrival reminded me of Lydia’s mother, Marilyn. Marilyn married the oriental James Lee against her mother’s wishes, knowing that it would lead to a Chinese child in an era where inter-racial marriages could be against the law. Her mother warned her that it is not right, even though James was a Harvard educated professor, and he was normal in every other way, apart from his race. It led to a marriage with three children, and following their unfulfilled childhood dreams of being popular and being respected, the dad wanted Lydia to be a social butterfly and the mom wanted Lydia to be a doctor. Two opposing forces acting on the middle daughter and eventually she committed suicide- although the way the book described it, she knew she couldn’t swim but wanted to begin a new life by returning to the day when she fell into the lake.

People decide what you’re like before they even get to know you.

I know that decisions like these are big- it is not just about a temporary impulse, it is living with the knowledge that you made your daughter an outcast because she is of two races. It is knowing that you gave birth to a daughter who has her own hopes and priorities but you know that she won’t see any of that happen. Under both situations, how can you hope for your child to treasure her life? What are the factors that needs to be weighed- the parent’s hopes, maybe it will turn out differently- how is this burden shared between the couple?

You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing. Children who no longer needed you. A husband who no longer wanted you. Nothing left but you, alone, and empty space.

I see family as a commitment, with the understanding that nothing can be predicted and analysed perfectly so that the children turn out well-adjusted and accomplished. But I felt that they might not have gone through with it if they knew that the children would be so unhappy, and that there will be nothing in the end. Nothing to hold on to. Are the few years of family life worth it?

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