The Good Divorce vs. The Great Divorce

Alexander Wolfe

Weekends, 2017. Directed by Trevor Jimenez.

In her 1994 best-selling book The Good Divorce, Constance Ahrons claims that children can be left unaffected by their parents’ divorce, so long as the language and attitudes surrounding the split are kept positive. Since that time, many adult children of divorce have presented an altogether different account, and their side of the tale is downright haunting. From their angle, parental divorce is so shaking that sometimes only an image of hell itself can adequately portray the experience.

Trevor Jimenez’s animated short Weekends is a striking narrative that conveys the trauma of parental divorce in such imagery. The autobiographical film tells the story of a young boy spending weekdays with his mother and weekends with his father. Although the boy seems fine on the outside, his inner turmoil is exposed through a series of dreams and struggles. With the bond that once united his parents missing, the boy feels as though he too is fading away into nothing.

The boy dreams of invisible people and things floating about, as though weightless. He sees himself being unable to blow out a candle or being snuffed out himself in a single breath. In his waking life, he is portrayed as a mere spectator to the lives of his parents, watching from between the rails of a staircase banister, a second-story window, or on the floor next to the couch. His closest friends are a raccoon outside his mother’s house, a random person in the window of a faraway apartment, and his red toy horse which he plays with at his dad’s. He is not a dramatis persona; he is not an active participant in the adult lives of either of his parents, especially when it comes to their new love interests.

Existential displacement is also conveyed brilliantly by the film’s music. Most of the film is silent, with Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie no. 1 being the only discernible overture. This is quite apropos: the title derives from the Greek word gymnos, meaning “naked,” while the piece is played “lent et douloureux, that is, slowly and painfully.

We often think of hell in terms of punishments doled out in proportion to sins, or perhaps souls wailing in the anguish of deep regret. A prominent biblical image of hell, however, is “to be cast into the cold and darkness outside.” Such is the experience of hell portrayed by Weekends.

In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis provokingly depicts souls in hell taking a bus to heaven. Upon their arrival, these souls discover that their bodies are transparent. After living earthly lives chasing after fleeting appearances, their own embodiment now reflects this. They are literally ghosts: man-shaped stains against the brightness of the heavenly air; they could be focused on or completely seen-through, like dirt on a window. One of them tries to pluck a daisy and it scrapes the skin right off his hand. The souls that belong in heaven, in the meantime, are weighty, opaque, and beautiful. By comparison, souls from hell are thoroughly unsubstantial.

Although the young boy in Weekends may not have committed any great sin, his very situation leads him to experience something like the souls from hell in Lewis. The boy is aloof and derelict. His parents scarcely pay him any attention. Contrary to Ahrons’ opinion, children of divorce are robbed of their “place” between the bond of their mom and dad.

The film—it must be noted—is not entirely bleak and gloomy. In the final scene, the boy imagines his two rooms uniting into one, filled with bright and beautiful colors. Against a pale blue sky, the yellow of the rising sun brings warmth to the young boy who sits on top of his now-alive red horse. Far below him is an empty and grey city—a perfect reflection of Lewis’ hell. The boy desires to be real, or, like the heavenly souls in Lewis, “solider.” There is hope for our young protagonist: he may one day find a place where he belongs and is seen and heard. It may have to wait until he is older, but with the dawn comes great promise.

Alexander Wolfe works in the Office of Marriage, Family, and Respect Life for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington and is a graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Washington, D.C. Alex is also a retreat team member for Life-Giving Wounds, a Catholic ministry dedicated to the care of adult children of divorce across the United States.