Last night I met up with some friends to go see the movie “Precious“. I had heard a lot of generic hype about this movie and wasn’t exactly sure what I was expecting, other than a gritty portrayal of the heartbreak of equal parts broken homes, poverty and urban life. The film was so much more than that. The story was intense and disturbing on many levels, but ultimately hopeful and full of transcendence. The acting was top notch by just about everyone involved, especially the main character, Precious (played by Gabourey Sidibe) and her mother (played by Mo’Nique). But the thing that surprised me the most about the film was the aesthetics involving the incredible directing, cinematography, and editing. The camera gets us uncomfortably close to several of the characters, especially Precious, to the point that the viewer feels as trapped in her body and circumstances and she does, to great effect.

With all the piling on of horrors, I can see why some people accuse this of being “poverty porn”. Much the same was said of Slumdog Millionaire last year. And yet for me, the film was all about transcendence and the presence of living and being in the world, and these themes are universal. Within many scenes in the film, when a particular violence or horror is visited upon Precious, the scene cuts away to a fantasy life she imagines for herself, one of glamour and success and love. This is part of her coping mechanism in a world too horrible to contemplate. It was thus one of the most moving scenes for me in the film when Precious is starting to attend a new school, and speaks for one of the first times in her life in front of others. She is woefully uncomfortable, but exhilarated at the same time. The teacher asks her how it makes her feel to speak in front of everyone (and in plain view).

And Precious responds: “Here….it makes me feel…here.”