Mr. and Mrs. Bridge

September 28th, 2008

Upon the passing of the great American actor, Paul Newman, I can’t help but think back to two great novels both written by Evan S. Connell, the first being Mrs. Bridge and the second being Mr. Bridge. In 1990, these two novels were knitted together to create a major motion picture starring Paul Newman as the ever reticent Mr. Bridge and his wife Joanne Woodward as the ever disappointed, yet guileless Mrs. Bridge.

I first encountered Mr and Mrs. Bridge while the Country Doctor and I were entrenched in the romantic poverty of medical school and babies. The movie was filmed in Kansas City, in the Mission Hills district, which is a neighborhood full of stately homes built in the early 1900s. Mission Hills was not far from KU Med nor the tiny bungalow we ourselves inhabited, so we often found ourselves loading up a baby or two, scraping a few coins together for a Coke and taking a drive through the tree lined streets trying to decide where George Brett lived and which house we would have for ourselves, if we ever had the chance.

By the time we moved to Kansas City, several years had passed since the movie was filmed, but the nine weeks that Newman and his wife Joanne spent in Kansas City was still much talked about and the movie maintained a prominent spot on the shelves in every movie rental house in town.

At some point, even though I was unfamiliar with the story, it’s relentless display and intriguing cover art, forced me to take it home and watch it. I spent two hours intrigued yet mystified by the story of the Bridge Family. I liked the movie, but didn’t really understand it. It wasn’t until I read the book, Mrs. Bridge many years later, that I came to more fully comprehend and appreciate the story. In fact, I became a devoted fan of the book and later forced it upon my book club, where I then proceeded to dominate the subsequent discussion and exclaim over all the details in the life of Mrs. Bridge to a room full of women who really didn’t think it the book was all that great.

Mrs. Bridge has that kind of effect on people, especially women. In fact, all the reviews I found on line today were written by men. I think Mrs Bridge scares the holy-ever-loving-crap out of a lot of women. I can understand this to a degree. Mrs. Bridge or India – is a woman whose entire life is wrapped up in her family and the tight, social mores of her upper middle class community. She can’t seem to find a way to define herself outside of her own home, family or social strata in any way. Yet, it is not Mrs. Bridge’s inability to step outside the safety of her very small world that is so provocative, but rather how the author, Evan S. Connell, makes this constricted, blase’ life so insanely interesting. It’s all that pent up emotion that lurks just beneath the surface of the two main characters that keeps one wondering when they are going to explode.

But of course…

they never do…

So this funny little fragile balloon-like world keeps right on spinning for them. It keeps right on spinning even as their three children adopt Bohemian lifestyles and marry unsavory characters. It keeps right on spinning as their neighborhood begins to crack open a tiny bit to non-wasp folks. And it keeps right on spinning as the rest of the world heaves with social unrest.

Even when the world does sort of inadvertently brush against one of them in the far more dramatic lives of their servants or their employees, to an extent that they have no choice but to respond, they are hardly up to the task. They simply cannot react… they simply cannot respond. For to respond is to admit something… it is to grasp something… it is to see something… that Mr and Mrs Bridge just don’t want to see. So they react by not reacting… they respond by not responding. And this emotionless existence is what makes their lives so strangely riveting.

Here is a picture of Mr and Mrs Bridge sitting closer together than they probably ever allowed themselves to do in real life. I put them on my porch, because I think they would have liked my porch. It is too warm and too breezy and the furniture is not very comfortable. This discomfort would have given them a chance to be stoically resigned and mildly disappointed. I don’t think they would have approved of my bright red and blue cushions, but neither of them would ever have dreamed of mentioning this… even when they were completely alone… just the two of them… on the long car ride home.

So if you are feeling a bit unkempt… a bit untidy… a bit frazzled and out of control… I would have to highly recommend a heavy dose of Mrs. Bridge followed by a Mr. Bridge chaser. They should neaten everything up for you..

…or make you run like a madman towards the nearest can of spray paint and cover your entire neighborhood in psychedelic colors… just because you can.