Puzzled

I love to do jigsaw puzzles. I like the process, not the completed picture. So, after I finish a puzzle, I almost immediately tear it apart and put it away. I like puzzles that have a lot going on in the picture. I avoid doing ones with too much sky or too much of one color. That’s because, when you are down to one color left, the process becomes mostly one of trial and error. I like to be able to look at the piece, then look at the picture on the box, and know where it goes. In that light, I can never understand how some people like to do jigsaw puzzles without ever looking at the picture.

I recently watched a little-known movie called Puzzle[i] (it is currently available on Starz). The film is about a woman who discovers she has a talent for jigsaw puzzles, and that discovery changes her life. This scene from the movie explains better than I could why puzzlers like me love to do puzzles:

In short, completing a puzzle is one of the few experiences we can have in our random lives over which we have some control, and when we complete the puzzle, we know we have made (ultimately) all the right choices. This scene reminded me of the old Howard Jones song from the ’80s (yes, I am showing my age), No One is to Blame,[ii] a song about life’s attractions, frustrations, and contradictions, especially the line, “It’s the last piece of the puzzle, but you just can’t make it fit.” Fortunately, although my life has been full of contradictions and irony, I have never had a problem with jigsaw puzzles. But I digress.

I found the movie, Puzzle, thought-provoking in another way. Although set in modern times, Agnes, the lead character in the film, is a housewife straight out of the 1950s. She is married to an auto mechanic with two grown sons and has, her entire married life, sacrificed her feelings and dreams to run an efficient household. She makes sure the men in her life have everything they need to be happy—a tidy house, clean clothes, three meals a day. Then a friend gives Agnes a jigsaw puzzle as a birthday present. When Agnes decides to put it together, she discovers a hidden talent for doing puzzles. She decides to buy another one, which ultimately leads her to question her current life and opens the way to finding new and enlightening experiences. Those experiences give her the strength to begin to challenge her current way of life and begin to make changes, as illustrated by this scene:

I found the attitude of Agnes’ husband a bit frightening in today’s world, but I suppose those types of beliefs persist with many. I have posted on this subject before (see, for example, my March 15, 2018 post, “Doing it Backward”); I will probably do so again until some of the injustices I see against women disappear. I like to think of myself as a feminist especially considering this definition of the word by historian, Claudia L. Bushman, who defined a feminist as someone who believes that “all of the talents and abilities of women should be developed for the benefit of themselves, their families and their communities.”

Recently, I have watched or re-watched several movies dealing with a lack of this feminist value. William Shakespeare lived at a time when society barred women from doing much of anything but running households. In Shakespeare in Love,[iii] for example, women couldn’t act in public, even when the role was a female character. In this scene from the film, the theater is shut down due to the scandal of a female actor:

Think of what we would have missed without being able to witness the great performances of our female actors. One of my favorites is Glenn Close, a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance in The Wife,[iv] in which Joe Castleman, the husband of Glenn Close’s character, Joan Castleman, is awarded the Nobel Prize for literature for works that were written by Joan. Here is my favorite scene in two parts (warning: some strong language):

Again, Joe Castleman’s attitude is puzzling in today’s world.

The Wife is a fictional story, but sadly, there are many true stories with a similar theme. In Mary Shelley,[v] the author of Frankenstein must initially publish her work anonymously because no one at that time would read a book written by a woman. And she was not alone. Each of the Bronte sisters (authors of such classics as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, had to use male pen names to get their works published. Mary Ann Evans needed to write under the pen name of George Elliot before publishers would take on her classics such as Middlemarch, The Mill on the Floss, and Daniel Deronda. Even Mary Louse Alcott, the author of Little Women, began her writing career as A.M Bernard to mask the fact that she was a woman. And the recent movie, Colette,[vi] is the true story of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, who, using her husband’s pen name Willy, wrote her first four novels making up the “Claudine” series, all of which became best sellers. Here is the trailer for the film:   

Colette went on to write novels under her own name and ultimately nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1948.

If you think discrimination against women in the world of publishing doesn’t happen today, consider that the publisher of the best-selling Harry Potter series, penned by J.K. Rowling, did not want her to use her first name (JoAnne) because of concern that a woman author might drive away potential readers. On the contrary, we should welcome women authors, if only because their experiences and emotions are often different from men’s. I love this short scene from Mary Shelley, which emphasizes that Frankenstein is much more than a ghost story:

And such attitudes don’t exist just in the literary world. For example, the film, Big Eyes,[vii] tells the true story of Margaret Keane, whose husband took credit for the artwork she created. Here is a short clip from the movie:

If you haven’t seen any of these films, I recommend you do so. But more importantly, let’s give all women their due. Our society still has a way to go before women can feel equal to men. I am puzzled as to why this is. A recent article in Marie Claire magazine provides some statistics on several ways women still trail their male counterparts. These statistics include:

  • Women make 16 percent less than men in comparable jobs. That percentage increases to 23 percent worldwide.
  • Women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population, but only 20 percent of members of Congress.
  • At Fortune 500 companies, women comprise only 17 percent of board members, and only 5 percent of CEO s are women.
  • Women are more likely to live in poverty than men. In the U.S., 15.5 percent of women live below the poverty line, while only 11.9 percent of men do.
  • Between 20 to 50 percent of women serving in the armed services have reported being the victim of rape or other forms of sexual harassment.
  • Women are more likely to be victims of human trafficking. Of the 800,000 victims of human trafficking each year, 80 percent are women.

So, although the opportunities for women are improving, we still have work to do. As Claudia Bushman’s definition states, let’s encourage women everywhere to develop their talents and abilities for the benefit of their families, their communities, and especially for themselves.


[i] Puzzle:

  • Production Companies: Big Beach Films, Rosto, and Olive Productions
  • Director: Marc Turtletaub
  • Screenwriters: Polly Mann and Oren Moverman
  • Starring: Kelly MacDonald, Irrfan Khan, and David Denman
  • Release date: September 7, 2018

[ii] No One is to Blame

  • Music and Lyrics by Howard Jones (Released March 1986)

[iii] Shakespeare in Love:

  • Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Miramax, and The Bedford Falls Company
  • Director: John Madden
  • Screenwriters: Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard
  • Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, and Geoffrey Rush
  • Release date: December 13, 1998

[iv] The Wife:

  • Production Companies: Silver Reel, Meta Film, and Anonymous Content
  • Director: Björn Runge
  • Screenwriter: Jane Anderson (based on the novel by Meg Wolitzer)
  • Starring: Glen Glose, Jonothan Price, and Max Iron
  • Release date: September 28, 2018

[v] Mary Shelley:

  • Production Companies: BFI Film Fund, Film Fund Luxembourg, and Gidden Media
  • Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour
  • Screenwriter: Emma Jensen and Haifaa Al-Mansour
  • Starring: Elle Fanning, Bel Powley, and Owen Richards
  • Release date: July 6, 2018

[vi] Colette:

  • Production Companies: Number 9 Films, Killer Films, and Bold Films
  • Director: Wash Westmoreland
  • Screenwriters: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
  • Starring: Kiera Knightley, Fiona Shaw, and Dominic West
  • Release date: December 20, 2018

[vii] Big Eyes:

  • Production Companies: The Weinstein Company, Silverwood Films, and Tim Burton Productions
  • Director: Tim Burton
  • Screenwriters: Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
  • Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, and Danny Huston
  • Release date: December 25, 2014

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