An Extraordinarily Ordinary Life

An Extraordinarily Ordinary Life

Ethel and Ernest: a True Story , is an excellent adaptation of the graphic novel written by Raymond Briggs (The Snowman, Father Christmas), which tells the story of a married couple whose defining characteristic is its extraordinarily ordinary way of life. In this story there are no superheroes with long capes nor long interplanetary voyages in which the existence of the universe is in jeopardy, nor the presence of creatures that threaten human existence. We simply see portrayed the growing love between Ethel and Ernest, the parents of R. Briggs, who had the inspiration of creating a graphic novel in their honor. 94 minutes were enough to define what it means to be faithful in our times, to know love in time (as Pope Benedict XVI would say). She is a conservative housekeeper of about 30 years whose passion for taking care of the home beautifies and gives grandeur to the maternal figure; he is a milkman with revolutionary ideas but always depicted with deep profundity the great value of work well done and its connection to paternity.

The story unfolds in London, beginning in the 1920’s, passing through the turbulent and dark times of World War II, to later capture masterfully the rapid cultural changes that occurred in the period after the war, including those that brought with them the sexual revolution of the seventies. Matrimonial love and the making of a comfortable home are the “background music” of this marvellous animated adaptation. There is no lack of the sense of nostalgia that every human being experiences on remembering the moments of life in which we have experienced family love. The home is presented as that paradoxical place (in the words of G. K. Chesterton) from which we all come and to which we must always return, for it is there that we are loved unconditionally. In contrast to the extended liberal ideology which shows a happy life as that life full of luxuries of all kinds, Ethel and Ernest reaffirms that the sweetness of home is found in the the most ordinary daily details of love. It could well be said that this couple embodies perfectly the affirmation that Josemaría Escrivá made about having a meaningful life: “To be happy, what you need is not an easy life but a heart which is in love” (Furrow, 795).

Ethel and Ernest will be remembered by many as an animated film that inserts “intravenously” a strong dose of truth in the middle of the superficiality of the contemporary world, now so distanced from a world in which beauty and austerity and the enjoyment of all that unites human beings were exalted. In this sense, the figure of the housewife is moving. Without false embarrassment, nor complexes of inferiority, Ethel is a sensible woman who knows how to love. Her image respectfully underscores the domestic work of a woman. She is a personal affront for those who look down on the care of the home or look at it unjustly as something of little importance. But it is not so, for knowing how to take care of a loved one through domestic life is an indispensable task for living happily, even in an era as technologized as ours. Denying maternity and its connection with domestic work is undoubtedly a symptom of social and spiritual decadence. A humanity that lacks the feminine figure, and therefore the maternal, is a humanity that is dying.

For his part, the image of Ernest reflects the sacrifices that a father must make to take care of his primary heritage: his wife and his children. The frustrations that work life brings with it and the professional desires that every man takes upon his shoulders are the main theme of his human drama. Some pragmatic world-views may look at Ernest as a conformist, incapable of directing a company or starting a business successfully. Nevertheless, the maturity that is portrayed in his difficult progress tells us the contrary. At every moment, Ernest puts passion into his duties as a working father, builder and protector of a home, with great intelligence and good sense, but above all, he shows his love for his wife and his child. His participation in the home and in the education of their children makes out of him almost a species in danger of extinction. A certain kind of radical feminism has wanted to obscure this reality that shines in Ernest’s character, a radical feminism that describes the male as the evil oppressor of women, who keeps all professional work outside the home and all social development for himself. It seems to me that this type of feminism is an authentic cancer for society, that has extended itself rapidly in Western culture and has come to penetrate in our consciences, creating a hostile climate for the raising of children, matrimonial love and a happy home life. Ethel and Ernest are a firm testimony that family and the raising of children are a priority that cannot be put off. The music of Carl Davis help make this animated picture into an authentic animated “classic” of films with a high educational content. Whoever wants to understand the family dynamic in its most genuine and ordinary expression cannot miss watching this great work.