There is a movie that I enjoy called Peggy Sue Got Married. For me, it’s an unusual choice, given that I typical enjoy suspense movies and historical dramas, and Peggy Sue is a gentle, sentimental story about love and relationships. It stars Kathleen Turner as a woman in her early 40s, on the brink of divorce from her high school sweetheart, who passes out at her class reunion only to wake up back in her senior year of high school.
Peggy Sue is, in her own words, “a walking anachronism,” reliving her younger years, not just as a girlish, hopeful teenager but also as an experienced, somewhat jaded wife and mother. The movie works by drawing on sentimental memories of a mother’s loving tenderness, the way siblings get under each other’s skin, fondly-remembered grandparents, and all the silly, funny, familiar tropes of high school culture.
But the main thrust of the story is that Peggy Sue is still/again in the same rut that she’d left behind in the future – trying to sort out her relationship with Charlie, her estranged husband, who is once again her teenaged boyfriend. Charlie had been unfaithful more than once, and finally left her for a younger woman. In the past and in the present, Peggy Sue must decide the future of her relationship (should she marry him or should she divorce him?), but this time with more awareness. “If I knew then what I know how…” Peggy Sue says, she would make a different life for herself. Or would she?
Time travel movies usually focus around the possibility of going back and altering one’s future, but Peggy Sue Got Married does this with a difference. In the end she decides both to marry her boyfriend again in the past, and to resolve things with the man from whom she is presently seeking a divorce.
Why? What does it mean?
We’d like to think we change as we grow, but maybe the movie is telling us that human nature is more fixed than we might realize. That would explain why Peggy Sue can say (as we all probably have) that “If I had it to do over again, I would do things differently”, but then actually doesn’t.
Or maybe it means that we are primarily emotional creatures, driven by the heart more than the head. Peggy Sue can travel back 25 years, knowing the pain and bitterness that her marriage will involve, and be free to marry another man instead (she has offers). Maybe she does a crazy, illogical thing when she marries Charlie a second time? Is she too emotionally attached to let him go when she probably should?
But maybe the lesson is really about how to look at past pain. Peggy Sue has no illusions about the man she has married, and she is at a pivotal time in her life when it would be easy for her to walk away from her marriage. In fact, she is clearly ready to do that as the movie opens, and she would be justified if she did.
When you’re bitter and angry it’s easy to focus on that alone, sometimes even hard to not be consumed by it. Your feelings color the way you look at everything and you can lose objectivity. Something or someone has to help you get beyond this and think more straight. One of the best ways for friends and family to be supportive is to not join someone in bitterness, to let someone vent, and then help them to think along more rational, balanced lines.
For Peggy Sue, it’s going back in time to remember what she once had with her husband that allows her again to feel that there is a deep bond that is stronger than the fractures in their union. She recognizes that if the past can’t be changed, the future can be salvaged, and the movie ends on a note of hope – Peggy Sue and Charlie will rebuild their marriage and save their family.