My First thought: What a beautiful film. A portrait of life in the 1960's, where racial tensions and gender power strife were commonplace, focused within a 14-year old girl's journey to find healing and restore her connection to her Mother, whom she accidently shot as a 4 year old child. What is truly compelling about this film is the way in which the masculine and feminine energies must come to reconcile with one another in order to find healing, and peace. In running from the cold harsh reality of a life with an emotionally shutdown father figure whom she refers to as "T. Ray"(Paul Bettany), Lily (Dakota Fanning) finds herself in a house full of women, nourished and held by Motherly energies for the first time. And what's more? These African American honey bee harvesters, led by Miss August (Queen Latifah) have not only found a way to survive as black women in a "hate filled world" such was the social climate of the time, but found a way to thrive in it. Miss August teaches Lily how to harvest honey gently from the swarming bees, but in the process metaphorically demonstrates a kind of philosophical strength in how to get along and glide past the "sting" of the world. The strength of the poeticism of this piece comes from it's ability to relate and be real with the audience, in combination with these philosophical overtures. There is a spirituality and inherent religious aspect most obvious in the African Mother Mary figure, literally a life sized statuary that the women go to touch the heart of for strength. In this way, it would be all too easy for a film like this to become over earnest, yet these blatent religious overtones are firmly grounded by the very real-life emotional experiences that the characters must go through and overcome, lending them power. Even the "Queen Bee" Mother of the house, Miss August, in all her strength, must face the pangs and anguish of the world, but does so as a shining example, in full surrender. Really a remarkable demonstration of how to carry the strength of the masculine and yet be in the compassionate nurturing surrender of the feminine, all as one; a wonderful marriage. This theme is explored again through the sister, June (Alicia Keys),a hardened fierce "masculinized" woman, toting her NAACP wear, emboldened in her independence and refusing to marry. She too is not fully at peace in her exclusively masculinized front and must yield herself vulnerably in her feminine role in orderto finally find joy. In so many ways, they were all looking for their "Mother." And as Lily so pointed out, she could find that solace not rising up to the sky but by going deeper inside of herself.
Perhaps the most remarkable journey too, is through that character of Lily, much praises due to the really tangibly felt and authentic performance from Dakota Fanning who just seems to have immersed herself and really invested herself into this role whole heartedly. Her transformation as a character, learning from these women and standing in her power by the end of the film lent itself to a really strong moment of coming to an understanding of her father and really being present with him, waking him up to his own sobering reality. There are certain moments in films that are not to be forgotten, and this was surely one of them. An example of how the feminine can temper the masculine when it is brought into the full awareness and realization of Self. There is a really beautiful sense of the peace that emerges from this balance and of that coming to an understanding within oneself, which this film really leaves you with.
Having seen this film, and the authenticity in which it was created really brought about in me a profound appreciation for how far we've come as a culture and society since the 60s. It is a rare thing as well to find such a piece where you resonate and deeply care about not just one, but really all of the characters in the film, who each seem to have a life and breath of their own. The Secret Life of Bees is a true treasure, and is not to be missed.