If your life were a movie, how would you tell it? Who would be the most important characters? What events would you highlight? What would be the message you would want it to convey?
Answering these questions requires both reflection and making use of the gift of memory.
In a sense, this is what Alfonso Cuarón attempts to do in his latest film, Roma. The Academy Award-winning director has described this film as one based upon his memory. It’s a glimpse into the life of his family living in Colonia Roma, a district of Mexico City during the 1970s.
The most important character? Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutiérrez, a young woman of indigenous Mixtec origin, played by newcomer Yalitzia Aparicio, who serves as maid and nanny to the family.
The film, shot in black and white, follows Cleo’s everyday life during a tumultuous time for herself, the family, and the country. An unexpected pregnancy, a broken home, a riotous city all come together around her in this carefully crafted film. But Roma is not a plot-driven story that has a clear beginning, middle, and end. It is more like a series of insights into daily life, punctuated by dramatic moments of heightened suspense and tension.
So, what’s the message of Roma? Is the film about family? Class dynamics? The role of women in Mexican society? The answer to all these questions is, yes. Each viewer experiences the film differently and will draw their own conclusions. That was the intention. “I wanted to make a film that was both intimate and universal,” Cuarón explains. “Ultimately, it is about humanity.”
Cuarón continues, “My hope is that in some way, Roma connects with you and your past, with your memory.” The film invites us to reflect on our own childhood, our own family, our own struggles. It invites us to reflect on the monotonous routines of daily life and the dramatic life-changing moments that shaped who we are. It invites us to use our memory.
Most of us will never direct a major motion picture based on our lives, not one to be streamed on Netflix, anyway. But when we use our memory, we go from being actors to spectators of the movie of our lives, streamed in our own minds. Dedicating time to reflect on our past experiences helps us to understand where we come from and to inform where we need to go, and what the message of our own lives is.
Memory is a key element in Ignatian spirituality, which encourages us to know our own story and know it very well. Why? Because our stories are sacred. St. Ignatius of Loyola spoke of a God who is always laboring in our lives. Reliving our past experiences can show us where and how God has been acting. The Examen, a daily prayer exercise with which we review our day by recalling our experiences, our feelings, and our interactions with others, is a practice that makes us more attuned to God’s action, both in our everyday routine and in transformative moments.
Viewing the movie of our lives through an Ignatian lens enriches our experience. We cease to be the sole spectators of our story, asking for God’s light that we might see our life and our experiences through God’s eyes, the one who is both director and companion. We can look to God with gratitude for the scenes that are joyful and consoling. We can look to God with confidence when reliving those scenes that are sad and trying, trusting that they are stepping stones to a brighter outcome. Everything is infused with meaning. We can even look to God when considering those scenes whose meaning still escapes us, believing that God will grant us the light of understanding. Doing so gives us a better sense of direction of where our story is going next.
When asked in an interview about his experience as a director, Cuarón commented on the pressures that the job can have, “It’s an intense experience…The biggest thing is that you know that whatever you do, it’s going to be there forever.” Considering the Oscar buzz it’s already getting, Roma will live on as a memorable film, prompting viewers to remember their own lives and childhood stories.
Cuarón’s words are a reminder that our stories, too, are forever. Whether we want it or not, they’ll leave an eternal mark on our world. We decide what meaning we want them to have, what message they are to convey.
Ignatian spirituality offers us an invitation to reflect daily on our lives and to find God active and laboring with us. And so we find that our stories, from the most mundane to the most dramatic, are charged with meaning for ourselves, for others and for the greater glory of God.