HBO has phenomenal programming. Lifelong fan here. They’ve done it again with another fantastically amazing documentary about womanhood. On the surface, Jane Fonda in Five Acts is a video autobiography. But Jane Fonda is so deeply vulnerable with her sharing that she actually speaks to the female experience the world over. On deeper levels the documentary is like a study of the stages of womanhood, femininity and self-discovery.
I have never been married, but the things Jane navigated within herself through her marital relationships resonate with me because I have learned similar lessons in different types of relationship interactions. Her message is so universal and so plainly delivered, it makes Jane Fonda in Five Acts a film of profound beauty and depth.
Act 1: Henry
Any healthy country, like any healthy individual, should be in perpetual revolution, perpetual change.
You have to have the courage to speak about the changes that are needed. And that includes challenging, at the root, the corporate power that has taken over the economy of this country.
We looked like the American Dream. Rich. Beautiful. Close. But a lot of it was simply myth.
A lot of other people were defining me, all of them men. I never felt real. I thought, I just have to get out from under my fathers shadow. Maybe if I go to France and join the New Wave, I will find I really am. I was always in search of somebody who was real in there [in me].
Act 2: Vadim
Here I was, trying to not be defined by men, ended up with a man who was the ultimate definer of femininity. That’s where I was at that time. I wanted someone to mold me. I wanted him to help me become a woman.
I felt like I was a bad mother and I was terrified. It surprised me this feeling of fear. Later on when I looked back on it, I understand.
I always saw my mother as a victim. Women=victim. I am a woman. I am damaged. I am going to be crushed.
My mother was a very complicated woman. A very damaged woman.
I heard my father say things about my body that has twisted my life ever since.
“Where are you? Where are you? Why won’t you show up?” Words she imagined her toddler daughter spoke to her through searching eyes.
I desperately needed structure. I desperately needed guidance. And, uh, I’ve always turned to men for that.
Act 3: Tom
I had suffered from an eating disorder for a long time. Nobody knew. The thing about bulimia is is that it’s a disease of denial. It takes a lot subterfuge. You’re very tired. You’re very angry. And You’re very self-hating. And I realized, I’m heading to a really dark place. I’m either going to head into the light, or I’m gonna succumb to the dark. And it’s a life or death thing. I went cold turkey. It was really really hard. There was something about taking control of my body in that way that got me over the addition. It changed my perception of myself. It was a revolution for me. Though completely unintentional.
He thought I was superficial. That I wasn’t smart enough. But I was producing my own movies. The kind of movies that say the things that I think needed saying.
He fell in love with somebody. And I found out. It did knock the foundation from under me because I could never imagine life without Tom. If I’m not with Tom Haden, then I’m nobody.
Act 4: Ted
I learned a lot with all the men in my life, but learned the most with Ted. His vision is macro and I’m micro, so we were a great partnership.
We had a wonderful ten years, but I had to hide a part of me in order to please him.
Ted couldn’t be alone. So my whole life was about him.
As we moved through the decade we spent together, I became more of a feminist. And so my focus was more on women’s empowerment. But it’s hard to be a complete feminist when you’re in a marriage that doesn’t quite work. None of my marriages were democratic, because I was too worried about pleasing. I had to be a certain way in order for them to love me. I had to look a certain way. And I looked different for all of them. I wanted to be living as a whole Jane. A fully realized Jane.
When you reside within your own skin, you can feel it. You’re holding all of you. Your anger. Your kindness. Your judgementalness. Everything that makes up what you are. Including the fact that you may be stronger and braver than the man you’re married to.
There was a softer voice saying: If you stay, you will never be authentic. You will never be able to be whole.
Act 5: Jane
It was probably the most profound turning point of my whole life. I left this man and one part of me was so sad. And the other part of me said, “I’m gonna be okay. I don’ t need a man to make me okay.” That was it. And I’ve never looked back.
I wish I were braver. But I am what I am.
Your age is less chronological and more spiritual and attitudinal. I was so old at twenty. On a soul level… I saw no future. I was very dark. Very sad person. There was no joy. I didn’t really know who I was. It took a really long time to find my narrative.
This is the beginning of my last act. In order to know how to go forward, I had to know where I’d been.
Their incapacity to love wasn’t because you weren’t worthy of love. It was because they too had been wounded. And then you can forgive. It goes from one generation to another and somebody’s gotta break the cycle.
I get so sad when I think of what I wasn’t for my daughter that she needed. It’s hard to take that in because it’s so painful. But its never too late.
I’m now having relationships that are much more democratic, but I am most myself when I’m with my women friends.
It’s hard to be really happy if your life doesnt have meaning. People turn to religion because it gives them meaning. But I am an activist.
I had spent so much of my life feeling if I’m not perfect, no one could love. Then I realized, trying to be perfect is a toxic journey. We’re not perfect. We have to love our shadow. We have to embrace and accept our shadows. And sometimes good enough is good enough.
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