Fences is a movie that was just released based on a play by August Wilson. It stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. The story is about Troy Mathison (Denzel’s character) and the choices he makes or isn’t given the chance to make over the course of his life. The film takes us through just about every emotion possible and if you’re paying attention, really makes you think.
Troy is a garbage collector in Pittsburgh, who used to play baseball in the Negro League and was turned away from the majors because he was too old when they opened up. This has made him bitter. He is also married to Rose (Viola’s character). In addition to being about Troy’s choices or lack their of, the film explores themes of love, family, fidelity, parenthood and friendship. Scroll on to read what we learned, how we felt, and what we’re taking away from the movie.
Mostly this movie made us think that all Black people are related. I mean factor in slavery and rolling stone fathers/mothers – there’s no way we aren’t all cousins. Jokes aside, Fences does a good job of showing how halves come together to make wholes and that the love of family can often extend to people that aren’t even your own.
I saw the film with my parents and after the movie was over, one thing my mother noted was how the movie touched on parent-child relationships in this day and age. She meant this in the context of the films depiction of the role of parents in who/what their children end up to be, children’s desire to be “liked” by their parents, and and just the responsibility of parents in general.
A big arc of the movie is Troy’s relationship with his son Cory. They spend most of the film sparring because Troy won’t let Cory be recruited to play college football. There is of course the traditional moment where son tries to intervene in fathers treatment of mother, as well as, growing pains of trying to become a man under the auspices of ones father.
The big moment here for us came when Cory asked Troy why he didn’t like him. Troy went on a rant about how liking him was never apart of the bargain – it’s not a requirement of parenthood. What is required is putting food on the table, clothes on his back, and a roof over his head. All of which were things Troy did for Cory because it was his duty or responsibility as his father. Troy never said he loved Cory, but his actions related to providing for him showed that he did.
I don’t think it’s a parents job to “like” their kid. But, it is important for parents to provide and do their best to give their kid the best. I say this as a person with no kids, but with parents who never “liked me” and who I never “liked” back. But, I respected them and always knew they loved me and were doing their best to do right by me. I think that’s what counts.
An important relationship in the film is between Troy and his fellow trash collector, Jim Bono. Bono and Troy have been friends since they were in the penitentiary together and end up making a bet that when a Troy builds Rose’s fence, Bono will buy his wife Lucille a new fridge. It’s Bono who outlines the films main argument when he says, “Some people build fences to keep people out. Others build fences to keep people in.” He is enough of a friend to check Troy about stepping out on Rose with Alberta and shows up for Troy’s funeral long after the two had grown apart. Oh that we all could have friends who see us, understand what’s going on around us, and call us on our ish.
The most strikingly relevant part of the movie for us was Rose’s monologues on life and love. When she found out the Troy had snuck around on her and gotten another woman pregnant, she asked him why he would do this to her, to them, after 18 years of marriage. Troy said he stepped outside of his marriage because the woman he had been with made him laugh from his head to his shoes and provided an escape from the responsibilities and weight he felt in his marriage to Rose and life with their son Cory. Rose, like most women would, lamented the fact that, she was his wife, so it was her job to make him laugh and be his escape. She remarked that she too had dreams, hopes, plans, and wanted to laugh or escape it all sometimes. But that she had buried them all in Troy for the last 18 years, because she was married to him and that’s what the “hard soil” of their marriage necessitated. (Note to self: Bloom on ones own. A partner or relationship cannot and should not be your garden or water).
This got me thinking about a myriad of things. The first being, how many women, especially Black women I know that have been stepped out on and made peace with it. Chosen to stay in situations, where what was once whole has become half because their man couldn’t in Rose’s words “stay in my bed.” How often we as Black women love and mother children who are not our own by men who didn’t love, respect, or care for us enough to stay true. Men like Troy, who feel that they’ve just got to do what they’ve got to do. Selfish men who don’t care about what their actions leave in their wake.
Then I started thinking about how often we as women make ourselves smaller to accommodate the men in our lives, to try and make sure they behave or stay. Rose said, excuse my terrible paraphrase, that “I wanted a man who could fill me till I burst. And he was so big that he filled up this whole house. The problem is, I forgot to ask him to leave a little space for me. But I wanted a house I could sing in. And he gave me that.” If that’s not a word, a read, and a commentary on relationships, I’m not sure what is. I know I have found myself shrinking myself or being too accommodating for a man that doesn’t deserve it and is a day late and dollar short on acting right. So why do we do it? Why did Rose do it? Why are men seemingly programmed to be selfish/self-serving in ways that women aren’t? Why are women often willing to shrink or settle in the wake of or for a big man? How do we, women, reclaim, better yet not give up, our space? Why do men cheat? And if we can’t build a fence to keep love in, what happens when it wanders out?
By the end of the movie, Rose recognized that she ultimately chose the life she led with Troy and made her peace with it because it gave her a daughter she never had but always wanted. I couldn’t help but wonder how things may have been different if life had dealt her another set of choices as a woman, if she hadn’t made herself small so she could have a house to sing in, if she had left Troy, if she had actualized her dreams. I couldn’t help but wonder what the world would look like if the women I know like Rose had a different set of options available to them or took it upon themselves to choose another life.
Ultimately, the fence was built and almost finished – there was only one corner left undone. In many ways, this felt like a fitting visual for life itself. We build fences, to keep things out, as well as in, except things in life are often not black and white. Relationships are messy and complicated. Family is made up of halves and wholes, yet loved all the same. We try so hard to keep people in and they still wander out. Death still always comes. We have to figure out how to become grown on our own. Friends grow apart. We get new and different jobs. Brothers get sick. Innocent babies are born.
Fences soared because it showed life, as it is. In the process, it reminded us that nothing is ever finished and things are often not simple. So, even if we build a fence, life, love, and all that other stuff, for worse, but likely for better, will still find a way to be around.
Images: Brown Studios, Fences Movie