I Love the Silences of ‘Lady Bird’



A night of transitions spent alone. I was in and out of the tiny toilet at the bottom of the corridor, accompanied by a UTI that seemed to come and go out of nowhere. Journeys back and forth, small transitions as a backdrop to larger ones. A dug out path. Kitchen, toilet, kitchen, toilet…

Kitchen. The kitchen where I watched Lady Bird for the second time. I couldn’t afford to buy it. A film is a frivolity when you’re a student living off big pots of pasta cooked in salt & pepper and a tea-spoon of olive oil.

I bought Lady Bird anyway.

This night was mine because it happened with no witnesses. I carried out the evening in an empty flat, one I usually shared with five other people. That’s why the details of Lady Bird have stuck: because I was alone. Being alone in a place you are not used to being alone in brings immense lucidity. The sound of the washing machine in the corner. Something familiar but now entirely different, the whirring no longer part of larger background noise, now the only other sound in the room, a presence I couldn’t ignore.

'Transition' is the word I cling to as I write this almost-review. Not just my physical transitions to and from the bathroom, but the general feeling of movement and impermanence. There I was, living in university halls, soon to be leaving for the summer, only to return once again come autumn. I’m at the age where the only certainty in my life is the lack of it. 

As someone who regularly experiences anxiety, I am intimate with all the outlines and contours of its serpentine form. How it wraps around my throat, constricts my belly, my heart, my legs. I know my anxiety well enough that I expected Lady Bird - a film about transition and uncertainty - to send me into a panic. A panic about the transitory nature of this stage of life I am at. This never happened. I won’t go as far as to say Lady Bird alleviated my dread about the future, but it allowed me to acknowledge the ephemerality of such a dread, and acknowledge the ephemerality of even that acknowledgement. Life morphs, and morphs again. Constantly. For better or for worse.

It’s been a while since that night. I write this review weeks later, still living in the age of deliberation. The directionless desert of your twenties. 

I don’t have the same vision of a linear and comprehensive review now - it’s been too long. And if I were to watch Lady Bird again before writing this, I wouldn’t have the same thoughts, thus a completely different review would occur. But I don’t want to write that review. I want to write this one.

What I remember so ardently about the film, and will remember no matter how much time passes, was the truth that writer-director Greta Gerwig mined from quietness. The silent moments – of which there are many – left me aching.

We meet Christine (aka Lady Bird, her self-appointed name) and her mother in the car. There is a tiny wedge of time in between them finishing a Grapes of Wrath audiobook, sharing weepy smiles, to when they vehemently argue, and Lady Bird throws herself out of the moving vehicle, after proclaiming that she hates it ‘here’, in Sacramento. (Don’t we all state that like a mantra? Hate it ‘here.’ We long for ‘there.’ Over ‘there’. / Wherever ‘there’ is, it doesn’t exist without the ‘here.’ The now.) 



In the pause before the argument, we learn so much. We learn that there exists a cycle between them of love and hate. Whatever they shared emotionally whilst listening to Steinbeck, they are now going to destroy. The bridges they build will always be burned, and then of course built back up again, eventually.

We learn mostly of their discomfort with connecting, their belief that they should carry on a violent cycle rather than letting it rest. They feel less vulnerable when consumed by spite. They feel like the winner - two sides of the same coin fighting to land upwards.

When they are at odds, it is the silent treatment that hurts the most. The mother makes a lot of chiding remarks, often quite rude, but it is when she employs silence as punishment that Lady Bird truly breaks. It hurts her more than insults. ‘Please talk to me, Mom’, she begs. 

And we return to the power of silence in the finale. It’s a devastating scene that takes place in an airport as Lady Bird prepares to leave Sacramento for New York. Her mother doesn’t come to the terminal gate to wave her off, because they’re still not speaking. She has a complete turnaround in the car park, rushing inside only to find her husband alone, signifying that Lady Bird has already left. She’s too late. It is a tragedy that takes place without dialogue, though the sheer pain of it screams.

Lady Bird lets the audience learn about its characters in the hush. In the gaps. And speaking of gaps; that brings me to one of the very final shots. Light coming through the gaps between trees and their branches. The light is only acknowledges within the closing scenes of the film, when Lady Bird finally recognises it. When she is ready to recognise it. The importance of Sacramento - the ‘here’ she hated.



She now understands the ‘here’ in relation to the ‘there’. How you can’t have one without the other. The significance of transition.

She calls her mother. She says thank you, then looks around in silence. We know what she is thinking as the screen cuts to black. The silences have taught us, by the end, how not to read her mind, but to listen to it.