The way we as society deal with pain is strange. We shun it away; we compress it so far down our guts that one begins to wonder if ever existed. And the way we speak of it, the monster we make it out be, you would think it belongs to a completely foreign deity. There are examples of positive outlooks on the “angry devil”, though. One that immediately comes to my mind is by “Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You”, which immaculately exemplifies the art of coping with pain.
“Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You” is a 2011 comedy-drama based on its namesake novel by Peter Cameron, following the growing pains of an isolated 17-year-old James Sveck. We first encounter James standing on the edge of the building with his dog tied by its leash behind him barking in trying to stop him from jumping, as his voice narrates on the voiceover: “I wish the whole day were like breakfast, when people are still connected to their dreams, focused inward, and not yet ready to engage with the world around them. I realized this is how I am all day; for me, unlike other people, there doesn’t come a moment after a cup of coffee or a shower or whatever when I suddenly feel alive and awake and connected to the world. If it were always breakfast, I would be fine.” Just as he is about to jump, his mother, a very polished New York gallery owner, steps out of the yellow taxi and starts yelling for him and his sister Gillian, an art student on a mission to publish a memoir. It soon becomes apparent to the viewer what kind of high-brow environment surrounds young James Sveck whose struggle to find his career path and personal identity led him to the breaking point. James feels the pressure to conform to expectations imposed by his parents and peers of pursuing some grand career goal which ultimately won’t bring him neither joy nor satisfaction. In dealing with this dilemma, he begins seeing a life coach who helps him realize that it is perfectly normal to feel confused about the future.
Throughout the movie, James finds himself unfolding not only his own life, but the lives of his family and acquaintances, discovering that each of them is flawed; each of them is burdened by a different pain. For his mother it’s the tumultuous love life; for his father it’s fighting the aging process and appeasing the younger females; for his sister on the opposite, it’s the stress of presenting as older and wiser than she actually is in order to keep a much older man; even his adorable grandmother Nanette has regrets such as giving up on her dream of learning to play the clarinet and breaking off communication with her daughter, James’ mother. As much as the plotline revolves around James’ existential crises, it also gives a thorough insight into the respective crises of other characters. James starts out as a broken, antisocial, confused teenager helplessly reaching for the last grain of hope, yet by the end he becomes a self-assured individual and a voice of reason for their loved ones. He seems to be the one with the most in-depth understanding of life’s fragility and impermanence and therefore the one who is able to guide others through overcoming the pains that feel more severe to them than they do to himself.
When his grandmother dies, for instance, instead of being utterly crushed by her death and encouraging his mother to feel regretful because she failed to make amends with her mother, he flips the perception by saying: “The past does not control the future.”, meaning that cursing the past won’t improve the future. We can only learn from the past and hope to be a little bit wiser for the wear in the future.
Ultimately, “Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You” invites the viewer to confront their pain instead of running away from it. It offers a sense of relief, a sense of confidence in the fact that this isn’t the end, that our time is ticking, but it hasn’t stopped. We hold the keys to our own happiness and as such we have the power to end our own pain.