AFI FEST 2010 Review: I WILL FOLLOW
I WILL FOLLOW, Ava DuVernay’s first fictional feature film, spans the course of a day as Maye (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) packs up the home she shared with her aunt Amanda (Beverly Todd) in the last year of her life as she battled breast cancer. Based on real moments from DuVernay’s own life, the film is a beautiful and unique take on the process of mourning. Through the physical undoing of a life and the people encountered along that process, simple tasks take on greater meaning and casual encounters end up carrying much more weight than they normally would.
Amanda has clearly made the choice to accept her fate and live her life to the fullest until her last moments. This leaves those in Amanda’s life to decide how they handle her decision. Through inter-cut flash backs to their moments together in the house, we see how close Maye and Amanda were and how although Maye not have always agreed with Amanda’s choices, she accepts them and takes the gift of getting to spend as much time with her aunt as she can.
Although Maye may have accepted Amanda’s choice, Amanda’s daughter, Fran (Michole White) is clearly on the other side of the argument. Fran wanted her mother to fight and did not agree with her choice to, from her perspective, give up. Fran may have resented her mother’s decision, but with her no longer there to direct her anger at, it comes down on Maye, who Fran blames for allowing her mother to make such a choice. It becomes clear that Fran’s anger towards Maye extends much further than just this decision, it goes back to the idea that Maye was Amanda’s “favorite” and she preferred her company over that of her own daughter.
As the two argue over objects in the house they each want to keep, we, along with Maye and Fran, realize that it really has nothing to do with holding on to stuff, they are both struggling to hold on to Amanda. Despite their differing opinions, both women have the same reaction when they realize Amanda’s room has been packed up. Disguised by the argument that they each wanted to go through her things to decide what they want to keep, it is apparent from the stricken looks on their faces that it is not the things in the room they are going to miss, it is Amanda herself. The packing up of her room, her personal space, is the tangible and physical proof that she is gone.
Amanda was a successful and highly regarded session musician and had a clear love and passion for music. As Maye and Amanda argue over the different generations of U2 fans, Amanda notes one of their songs, “I Will Follow,” whose lyrics say, “If you walkaway, walkaway, I walkway, walkaway, I will follow, I will follow.” Throughout their interaction in these flash backs, Maye is always following Amanda around the house. When Amanda leaves to go out, Maye is left alone, looking almost lost without Amanda there to lead her. Losing a loved one is always difficult, but to lose one that you lived with, that you considered a mentor, someone you looked up to and wanted to be, it can leave a person feeling even more lost.
Maye continually notes that she does not feel ready to leave and, even though she continues to pack, it is clear that she is not just taking her time out of respect for Amanda; she herself is in no rush to move on. The struggle between knowing she has to and not wanting to is what she wrestles with throughout the day. Maye ping-pongs from easily handing off a beloved painting to taking an extended moment to read over the TV shows saved on her TIVO box.
As various people from movers to Goodwill to people answering Craig’s List ads to friends and family come by, Maye not only finishes clearing out the house, she is also able to make peace with the loss and move forward. It is interesting and touching to see how certain people who come into Maye’s life for only moments to take down a satellite dish or leave a dolly help her move forward in her grief as much as, maybe even more so, than family members, friends or lovers. Death almost makes things a level playing field and leaves you open to these moments more than you might be in an average day in your life.
The lyrics continue with “I was on the inside, when they pulled the four walls down, I was looking through the window, I was lost, I am found.” Once the house has finally been packed up and emptied, all the visitors and loose ends tied up, and no more physical entanglements to wrap herself in, it becomes clear that somewhere along the way, Maye has found herself again and no longer needs someone to follow.