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Watching "Cake" A Painful, But Validating Experience
Tuesday 28 July 2015
Unscripted: Watching 'Cake" a painful, but validating experience
When a movie I’ve been wanting to see comes to Netflix, I usually add it to “My List” and forget about it. It sits in digital limbo for months, sometimes until Netflix removes it.
When “Cake” was added, however, I watched it immediately.
I remember my disbelief when I first heard about “Cake.” How would a filmmaker accurately portray chronic pain, an often invisible illness?
Of course, Jennifer Aniston’s character has an extreme form of the disease. It’s an understandable artistic choice: There has to be a visual manifestation of her pain for the audience to connect.
Aniston, sans makeup for most of the film, barely looks like herself as Claire Bennett. In almost every scene, she shows her pain, whether in a stiff gait or seemingly constant frown.
But it’s easy to forget how many chronic pain sufferers choose not to show their daily struggle.
I cannot remember a time when my mother was not in pain. Among her long list of maladies, one of the most crippling is fibromyalgia, a chronic pain syndrome that causes widespread muscular pain, fatigue and sensitivity to light, among other things.
I often describe it to people as the muscle aches and general drained feeling that accompanies the flu — only these feelings never go away.
My mom does an excellent job at hiding her daily discomfort, but it’s in our private moments when I visit her at home that I see her suffering. I see it in how her face curls up into a cringe when she stands up. I see it when she asks me to shut off a dimly lit lamp because it hurts her eyes. I see it when she wakes up just as tired as when she went to bed.
I also see it in myself, as I develop my own symptoms of the genetic condition.
Fibromyalgia is just one example of chronic pain syndrome. While it’s not clear if that’s exactly what Aniston’s character is living with — her vaguely named support group is for “chronic pain” — all chronic pain disorders live under the same, crappy umbrella.
As if feeling wiped out all the time weren’t bad enough, chronic pain sufferers often have to prove the validity of their condition to those around them.
It’s as stupid as it sounds.
Because chronic pain sufferers don’t always have a limp or other visible marker of their condition, some people have a difficult time believing their pain is real. Some even believe it’s all in their heads. When my mom first developed fibromyalgia symptoms, her doctor diagnosed her with “bored housewife syndrome.”
So, you can imagine the validation I felt — for both of us — watching Aniston, one of the world’s most famous movie stars, portraying a woman with an illness I was all too familiar with.
With the wide release of a movie like “Cake,” someone recognized it as real — and not just a medical professional or fellow sufferer. A filmmaker, a screenwriter and a movie star all recognized chronic pain as legitimate.
As I watched, I saw bits of my mom in Aniston’s movements — how she stiffly bent over to put something on the ground, her grimace as she readjusted her sleeping position — and in her resilient nature.
I had my living room lights dimmed, and my electric heating pad was on high against my aching back as I watched.
But I still felt good.
Jenelle Janci is an LNP staff writer. “Unscripted” is a weekly entertainment column produced by a rotating team of writers.
The article originally appeared here.
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