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51 Birch Street


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"The film is a revelation because it is so folksy and so disarming that we can see ourselves and our own family histories in a fresh new light."

– Bruce Kirkland, TORONTO SUN

Jen Hunt Johnson (age 32)

Over time, I’ve put in a lot of thought about the themes portrayed in 51 Birch Street. I just finished watching the film for the first time this evening, and I am left with the most bizarre feeling, as if it were somehow made for me, at this moment in my life, and I can’t help but wonder is this subject so incredibly universal? But then how is it that we can’t ever talk about it, or acknowledge it?

I am a child of divorced parents (very divorced). Each of my parents has married three times, leaving me with the perspective on marriage that perhaps the third time is the charm. I have three older siblings from my father’s first marriage, and a younger sibling from my mother’s last. I am the sole product of my parent’s short union. My father had affairs outside of his marriage to my mother, my mother, clearly had a pretty weak idea of what she wanted in a potential partner, and their entire lives have seemed to progress in an awkward trial and error. With such colorful family dynamics, one would think we would have lots of things to talk about, but none of us do. I am essentially estranged from my older siblings. I have an awkward, though promising relationship with my youngest one, and as far as my parents are concerned I struggle every day with wanting to let them go to their graves (or my own) without ever acknowledging these family and personal experiences that have placed us in this odd relationship that we’re all in today.

As much as we as adults hope to move beyond what we see as the faults of our parents, it’s a far more complicated thing than meets the eye. I married my husband five years ago. He also comes from a “broken home” upbringing. We thought we knew what we were doing, we thought we could understand the difficulties of marriage better than our parents had. We married much older than our parents (my husband is 40), and between the two of us we had seen plenty of examples of how things could go wrong. To say we felt objective in our approach was an understatement. But five years into the marriage we are now discovering a deep lack for all of the things that couples have that go so wonderfully right. We’re not alike at all (perhaps a quality that was once intriguing), we have difficulty understanding each other at times, and as hard as we work on it, I know for myself that I have questioned whether we were ever really right for each other.

I desperately feel for Mina. I relate to so much of what is told about her in this movie. It is so close to my experience that it is literally painful to watch. I desperately feel for Mike too. There is that expression that you see in his eyes when he talks about the best compliment Mina ever gave him. My husband has had this expression too. We all want to be happy, and live happy lives, but sometimes its really hard to do.

I have such an odd sensation that this family of strangers is miraculously portraying a potential future path for my life on screen, right before my eyes, and so that says to me how incredibly universal these feelings are that we have for those who are close to us, for who we ever hoped, or fantasized, or thought we would be, for the lives we have had, and wished we had, and for this wonderful message that this is not all just some horrible roller coaster that we’ve been doomed to ride. We can get off every now and then and check in with where we are. We can get to know the people around us who have shaped every aspect of our lives. We can participate with family, instead of falling victim to them, and even after a marriage ends, that has spanned the better part of one’s life time, there is always the possibility of renewal, and of discovering who we are, knowing who we love, and learning how to be happy. Not everyone gets this privilege in life, but I suppose we all have to keep trying to solve that problem. Regardless of the difficulties, for me this is a good purpose to build one’s life around. Be happy, be fulfilled, and help those around you to find their way there too.

I think this film brings up a lot of thoughts about what living really means, and how we’re supposed to do it. Thank you for sharing such an intimate, thoughtful, and moving film.

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