Punishing the Guilty – For Whose Benefit?

December 31, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” was written and filmed well before Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, Roy Moore, and all the others were in the news.  Yet the film has a remarkably timely incident, and it illustrates how men, even when they are sort of on the right side, the side of the victim, can be disappointingly obtuse. What the men want is retribution. That’s what will make them feel good. But in their focus on punishing the guilty, they ignore what the victim is asking for – understanding and  support

Half-brothers Andy and Matthew and their older sister Jean have come to visit their father in the hospital. As they stand in the parking lot, they see another visitor, Paul, a friend of their father’s. Paul is old and infirm; he has to be carried to the hospital by a burly male nurse. This episode in the movie is called “Jean’s Story.” That story is an incident from her teen years that she now tells to her two brothers for the first time.

She was visiting her parents on Martha’s Vineyard one summer.

JEAN: The next day, Dad played tennis and worked in his studio. I went down to the beach with the kids. I got to swim in the ocean which was really special for me. I loved that. Later, I showered in the outdoor shower with my suit on. And I realized someone was watching me. It was Paul. He smiled at me, almost politely and then he lowered his tight bathing suit, took out his penis and started stroking it.

MATT: Oh God.

DANNY: Paul did?!

JEAN: I watched him until he finished. Then he walked away.

DANNY: Did you tell anyone?

JEAN: I told Dad that night and he asked if Paul had touched me and I said, No. He thought we should probably just leave it then, they were going back to the City soon anyway. But that if Paul did it again, he’d punch him in the nose. The next day when I was leaving, I looked around for Dad to say goodbye, but he was playing tennis. I thought about telling your Mom, Matthew, but I was afraid she’d get angry at me. I remember crying on my way to the ferry.

Jean leaves, and the brothers try to think of what to do. “Do we kick the shit out of him?” Danny suggests, but they realize this might kill the old man, and besides, what if the burly nurse stepped in? So they decide to trash Paul’s car. They are inept at first but soon get the hang of it, kicking the mirrors, twisting off the wipers, smashing the windshield with a rock.

They are exhilirated and quite proud of themselves.

MATT:  That felt great.
DANNY:  I don’t know why we don’t do that more often.

A few minutes later, they excitedly show Jean their handiwork, but her reaction is not what they expected. It’s more like the reaction she would have to a couple of little boys who had done something stupid. “We thought you’d be happy,” says Danny.

The brothers were In fact acting like a couple of little boys, and they did do something stupid. And even though they are grown men, Jean still has to explain it to them.

MATT: He has dementia?

ELIZA [Matt’s 18-year old daughter]: (nods) Yeah.

MATT:  He has dementia.

DANNY: Well, he didn’t have dementia when he molested Jean.

JEAN: He didn’t molest me.

DANNY: (losing steam) But let’s not minimize it, Jean. What he did was shitty and damaging and I don’t know...that same asshole is in there somewhere... Right? Beneath the dementia.

JEAN: I’m glad you guys feel better. Unfortunately I’m still fucked up.

DANNY: Do you want to take a swing?

JEAN: I could smash every car in this parking lot and burn the hospital down and it wouldn’t un-fuck me up.
You guys will never understand what it’s like to be me in this family.

The mens’ aggression – towards Paul and in a later scene towards one another – does something for the men. It brings them closer together. But it does nothing for Jean. And when she tells them so, and they try to think of doing something for their sister, all they can come up with is to offer her a chance to participate in punishing the guilty (or at least his car). They are clueless.

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