A Glass Castle and Hidden Lives

Carl B. Forkner, Ph.D.

This week’s post is a bit unusual for me–not that there are no lessons to be learned or perspectives to share; rather, it is unusual that I would write what is essentially a movie review an a blog article. Today, though, we saw the movie “The Glass Castle” and I feel that it warrants discussion or, at least, introspection.

First of all, the movie is a true life story based on the book of the same title by Jeannette glasscastle_3d_bcforwebWalls–the subject of the film, along with her family, friends, and life events. It is respectful, insightful, interesting, and as contemporary as it is retrospective. In any case, this film (in my opinion) has the sole weakness of being perhaps a few months outside the Academy Awards voting memory length for the upcoming spring gala.

The story is one of a family with dreams, hopes, togetherness (well, most of the time), frustration, love, dissonance, and vision. To me, it was a true american tale of trying to make it and do the best a family can with what they have–not unlike many families today, right? But it was also a lesson about what is at the surface or facade and what really lies below–and why sometimes we really do not understand that depth in our own lives.

And therein sits some of the lessons to be learned. On its surface, Ms. Walls’ family as she was growing up has the characteristics on the surface of an abusive, alcoholic mess where fear reigns supreme and the drunk father has little compassion or intellect–outside of his obsession with building the Glass Castle, which plans he tinkers with throughout the story. But once one dives beneath the surface, a different reality appears that defies the surface impression. [I am not going to tell you the details–please go see this great film]

The first lesson in the story is the power of two primal emotions: survival and love. The parents did what they thought was best for the family, but maintained the paths toward each of their independent visions. Sometimes that was a plus, sometimes a minus, but never without love for family. From the perspective of the growing children, however, one can see the grand rift between intent and actions–and how they influenced the children as they grew up.

glass castle snow

The strongest bonds in the family were primarily set along those lines–the parents and their dreams, vs. the children and their love for one another to enhance their ability to survive what they perceived as an unhealthy environment, vs. the relationship of love and development of trust between one of the parents and one of the children. These threads play against each other as well as complement each other during the course of the film, intertwining and then straightening out like a strand of DNA twisting through the body.

Another way in which the film reflects contemporary life is that even the most confusing and conflicting appearances do not always reflect the true core of people–the real people beneath the surface. In this case, the most important parts of the lessons come in the last 15-20 minutes of the film (even though it is not a mystery thriller…LOL). You spend much of the show learning to understand what we may believe are the life’s lessons being taught; in the end, however, you find that the twisting threads of the story finally coalesce to define what exists at the very core of what makes life in this family environment–and their love–endure.


The Glass Castle is playing now in theaters across the country. Based on the true-life story of columnist Jeannette Walls–and her book of the same name–it includes a brilliant screenplay, superb acting by every character in the main story, great cinematography, and no music or sound effects that drown out dialogue.

Enjoy the film, but take the lessons with you and ponder them. It is well worth it!

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