It Was Mother

It Was Ted

It Was Ted
Wayras Olivier
APRIL 2016


Teddy's upbringing isn't hard to imagine. His mother would have conceivably in days past been a mink who taught Teddy as a little boy that only "uncivilized animals" make noises while hurling about the estate mansion in their jammies. Teddy, of course, would take his mother's advice on civility to heart only to later catch her in a scenario that undermined it, maybe at the dinner table or a cocktail party consuming libations with guests. Something about her laugh shrieks contempt rather than mirth. Worst of all, it's prompted at the drop of a hat, crowed at any joke that's distasteful, shallow or insensitive. This will shock Teddy, making sense of the swirl in his belly that signals "mommy's the one who makes disgusting noises" is sharp and will take some getting used too. Brought on by witnessing hypocrisy, a word Teddy's little brain and lips can't quite get around, he'll defer to a more readily available description, more accurate to the occasion and much simpler to articulate—mommy's a jerk. One thing is clear—the aforementioned hypothetical scenario notwithstanding—Teddy's mother has never been humbled.

Teddy (Andrew McCarthy) was speaking when it happened. His mouth pregnant with chocolate peanut butter pie when his girlfriend, rather abruptly, announced she didn't belong in this conversation. There it was, up until then, this conversation—the family story of Teddy's wealth and privilege—was the conversation that not only distinguished young Teddy, but also most assuredly guaranteed a future partner. Her name is Rose (Rosalind Chao) and she's got a tone that leaves Teddy silent; unimpressed by his narrative she wonders whether Teddy falling back on a conversation about his blue blood is worthy of her. Or him. That's not to say Rose isn't seduced by Teddy's dainty short and long, but the eighties are coming to an end and Teddy must manicure his own story if he's to keep Rose beyond university.

To do so—keep Rose—Teddy will have to get one past his mother, or more accurately, pull one faster than her. Pulling fast ones is a science for Teddy's mother, one she's got down cold, as we will later see. Any comment, however tasteless, can be justified by saying "...it's just the way the world is..." Such a statement, tried and true, is indeed used by Teddy's mother when she meets Rose to contextualize and excuse a careless comment. Boorish sociopolitical worldviews aren't her own—they're well understood facts and to condone or condemn them as mere perceptions is futile. Besides she, more than anyone, just wants to share common ground with Rose and is proving so by reaching out to her. But Teddy's mother is the worldview, and for her, common ground is akin more to a fortified scale that is always tipped in her favour. This ensures she never has to kneel before a person, event or idea bigger than herself.

It's safe to assume and rightfully so—given Teddy's reaction to Rose's blunt comment—that neither has he (kneeled), he is after all, his mother's son. Or maybe kneeling is simply a habit for Teddy, down to the wrong idea, circumstance or person.

Being both humbled and humiliated, although not the same, both radically diminish the self. Either wonder, indescribable and absolute, will puncture the mind or sheer terror when it beholds—it, not the world is a tiny marble. The mind in reality isn't learning, it's simply being reminded, it's been here before, sanity momentarily unhinged. If wisdom is a prerequisite for sanity then one need not look further than Confucius's definition of wisdom to inure oneself from losing their marbles. "The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name."

Let's take power. Identified directly by name—whether in nature or human nature—does not make one wise, identifying its correct use and to what end it's deployed is the way to call it by its proper name. Failure to do so corrupts and deteriorates the mind as does being on the receiving end of its abuse.

A practice in ancient China, however, known as a naming taboo did not observe Confucius's axiom. Eminent people's names were not uttered out loud, a custom reinforced by deliberately refraining from inking the last building block "stroke" of the honoured person's name. It seems an unpronounceable name, left out to dry, was a good thing.

Not so if all three—a person, event and idea—are not called by their proper name. Unrecognized, unacknowledged or left invalidated, reality becomes permissibly obscene. If a person is abandoned and forced to mind this distortion of reality alone, they themself can become irreparably distorted.

Rose's grandmother was on her knees when it happened. With a door slammed shut in her face she found herself unhinged from her parents' home and disowned—punishment for her story. She maintains it's true, but her parents choose not to be wise to their daughter's situation, taking instead a different read on it—she wasn't raped.

Ask a young boy what's required to become a Jedi and he'll readily answer—one has to confront Vader. Father, the celestial commander, is waiting in the cave. He does not give his position, capacity for mind tricks or his power to suspend the laws governing the universe to his younglings without a fight. Young boys seduced by father to the dark side have an altogether different battle to wage than those who were seduced by mother. Fighting gravity is a struggle so strenuous young boys are kept compliant to her force in their soles. Politely asking for autonomous power is like asking for her permission to grow up and only strengthens her resolve and purpose to pull.

Teddy can't do this alone. He needs Rose.

To pull a fast one, Teddy will have to engineer a "scene." Given the expression on his mother's face when she's introduced to Rose—a reaction to Rose not being Caucasian—Teddy succeeded with his provocation. Only Teddy must now catch his mother retaliating with her fast one.

No son is ignorant to his mother's bent on life no matter how straight and polished she presents herself to the world. Make no mistake, Teddy is wise to his mother's perception of Rose as a mere subject, and thus any chance to penetrate and indoctrinate her would inevitably be taken advantage of. Teddy's mother is doing what any imperialist Queen would do: she's safeguarding the family bloodline from any impurities.

Memories can be weapons, and The Queen, more pusher than arms dealer, peddles a political memory—just a taste—to hopefully get Rose hooked on a wound that does not belong to her. The Queen, wretchedly perceptive, knows Rose isn't Vietnamese, yet by referring to the War in Vietnam as unpopular, can surely get Rose to identify and take ownership of the embarrassment and shame the war brought upon the American people. Ergo Rose's mere presence at the party is a transgression of good manners. Rose, marginalized by having to defend her significance and pride by asserting, "I'm not Vietnamese I'm American," has unknowingly heeled to the Queen.

Teddy's mother, well aware that with no witnesses it's her word against Rose's. Blood is thicker than water and sons remain little boys forever.

The filmmakers block and frame the scene in a way that makes it impossible for Teddy to be within earshot of his mother's propaganda. Teddy, off camera, need only be on the other side of the courtyard watching punctiliously as the bait (Rose) gets swallowed by his mother's flapping lips. Teddy can now with total impunity drive a stake through his mother's heart.

"I always knew you were a jerk,' Teddy snips at his mother, "but sh-t, this is the first time in my life I am ashamed of you."

A dirty secret has just surfaced. The two lines conjoined—always knew and first time—hint at a family conspiracy. It had been permissible in the past for Teddy's mother to behave like a jerk as long as her shame wasn't hers to bear. A Teddy can be squeezed but not a Ted.

Rose can't see herself doing it but you can—at the beginning listening to Teddy eating the chocolate peanut butter pie while he regales about his Blue Blood—she's protectively rubbing her neck. Teddy's not a jiangshi but there's a visceral reaction to the situation that keeps Rose unconsciously guarded. Shen, the vitalizing agent in blood, animates humans and prevents their emotional and physical boundaries from deteriorating. Only excessive humiliation and disgrace can weaken shen. It's not necessary to be bitten to feel that life can suck.

When duty called, Rose's grandmother left a house occupied by jiangshis and returned to another house—the one she was barred from—and offered what little of her shen remained to her dying mother. On the surface she appears to be doing the right thing, the noble thing, a ritual offering of her blood but "the feeding" fails to quench the rest of her family who persist and insist on cursing her name.

Forced to live with the man who raped her, Rose's grandmother, for all intents and purposes is trapped inside a coffin. I should mention that jiangshis in the west are called vampires.

Rose, now married to Ted, presents herself as a countess at parties, beautiful and austere, unaware that she herself is "chasing the dragon." As she gazes into a mirror, smoke billowing off her cigarette: the metaphor screams to be recognized—smoke and mirrors—a trap of her own making, precisely why she can't escape let alone see it. Rose has bitten herself, and like a jiangshi in front of a mirror, she has no reflection.

The parochial interpretation of Rose's docility is she's lost her voice. She's lost herself in the marriage. She's forgotten who she is, so on and so forth. Unaware, as is Ted, of her grandmother's suicide—60 years ago—from opium, Rose is actually in detox. She has inherited a family "trip" that still needs to be kicked. It's humiliating when Ted is cornered in the den forced to watch his wife jones for a "fix." Ted cares but doesn't know what he's supposed to be carrying.

"We used to argue..." Ted reasons with Rose. Afforded all of life's creature comforts, a man like Ted, given his silver spoon upbringing, still needs a good snuggle, as does Rose. I am of course referring to the more spirited form of snuggling, done best in the living room amongst expensive furniture and fragile antiques, the ripping and menacing—wrestling match. Tickling, headlocks, pestering noises—the works—escalating and concluding with either wife or husband giving the other a right and proper spanking. But Rose has lost her tone leaving Ted with a voice that doesn't like to play on its own. It's a frightening time for Ted, that voice in his head would be softly whispering to him: I miss my mommy. Ted is in terrific danger of acting out.

When news of Ted's affair breaks, Rose is fixated on a round table and four chaotically displaced patio chairs in her backyard.

Order identified as heaven's first law is a misnomer. Change is heaven's first law. Understood this way one sees how change is heaven's way of moving towards progressively higher degrees of order, its pearl—harmony is not an automatic outcome. Heaven's law of and for change moves with or without the participation of the mind. It falls on Rose, not Ted, to get the family's affairs in order.

East may be "where things begin," as explained at the start of the film, but it's West that needs to be confronted and addressed as where things began. West Lake Temple is where Rose's grandmother was spotted by Wu Tsing—her rapist—triggering the events that ultimately terminated her shen.

East must completely and unconditionally surrender its directional power to the West. On this horizon, for the first time, the sun must rise to shed light on what happened. It's this kind of conundrum that arrests reason and lets the mind free fall into a trance.

Making four equidistant points—with the patio chairs—around the circular table, Rose in trance also removed the directions North and South "from the table." North and South, are now, up (Heaven) and down (Earth), consequently any chair Rose chooses to sit in she'll be facing only West. In addition, by setting four points around a circle Rose has squared the circle, a symbolic violation of mundane reality.

For Ted, when he arrives, this is equivalent to placing a "square peg in a round hole," something his intelligence, long ago "normalized," would keep him from even attempting. But his wife not only tried, she's succeeded in opening an arcane dimension of reality to summon her grandmother's shen—the dragon.

A dragon that can't be fooled, seduced or leveraged by glass pearls into relationships. A dragon that calls things by their correct name—Rose, not the flower, the most respected tone from a pearl.

Ted kneels with two words—I'm listening.
Two words Rose's grandmother couldn't summon from her parents after her assault. The breaker of spells those two words.

W.