I can’t remember when I first watched Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, but for most of my adult life I remember it being one of my most loved films. It’s two stories of friendship interwoven with one another, one within the other – again a story about storytelling (we’ve seen a fair few of those together since I started this blog). Each of the two stories informing each other, our knowledge gained from each episode building to create a whole picture. And what a picture. One lifelong friendship, one surprise friendship. A vision of how we once were, the ugly issue of racial tension and hatred, the disdain displayed towards blacks and women alike – both holding a mirror up to the “modern” story and to our own world; challenging us, encouraging us, motivating us.
In the one story we find a married woman in the middle of life and she is completely lost. She tries so many “new things” but what eventually anchors her is the almost accidental discovery of a kindred spirit who then awakens her soul through storytelling. And in telling the story of two other women and the wider community they find themselves in, Mrs Threadgoode reveals her own heart to Evelyn. In remembering the community she was once part of Mrs Threadgoode more than anything else shows us a joy of life that Evelyn has long been a stranger to. It is this joy, this understanding of community and togetherness that slowly ties the two women together over the course of the story – so much so that by the end Evelyn shows no hesitation in inviting Mrs Threadgoode to come and live with her after it’s discovered her own home has been demolished. This friendship is not based on any grand shared adventure, or muddling through together against the odds; it’s not based on a grand passion or great tragedy. It’s simply two people sharing an experience that someone else has had and through sharing that have realised they view the world the same way. It’s two people sharing simple affection, comfort and most of all joy – almost to the level of sucking the marrow out of life, but doing it together. And really, isn’t this what most of our friendships look like. They’re not bitching or looking to “one-up” each other, they’ve experienced what a negative and destructive effect that can have on the soul. They’re not rushing to push each other down or compete with one another. They’re just friends. And that’s how it should be.
In the other story we have drama, loss, tragedy, murder, love, joy, community and of course the Fried Green Tomatoes of the title. What we have here are two soul-mates. (Whether it be the straight out lovers of the book or the ambiguous “best-friends” of the film it’s clear that there is a love and affection here that goes beyond the usual bounds of friendship. Does it matter that the Same-Sex aspect of the book has been glossed over or potentially blotted out in the film? Some might say it’s an accommodation to the main stream, a denial and betrayal of the original story. Some might say it makes no difference. Personally, I didn’t think it was completely unambiguous in the book either.I think I would agree that either way it is a relationship of deep abiding love. When I first saw the film it was pretty obvious that Idgy was utterly in love with Ruth from the outset and whether or not that was reciprocated, she would be devoted to her as a friend; and as for Ruth, if she did feel the same, it wasn’t quite as obvious, but if she didn’t then it was a far more gracious and Godly stance on her part that she did not reject Idgy’s friendship and accepted their relationship as one based on mutual love – that’s just my own thought, hope it makes sense).
These soul-mates become the heart of a community that is as far from the world of the “Mean Girls” as you could get. Far from embracing the bitchiness, backstabbing and selfishness that is supposedly women’s default setting, these two women establish a community of Joy, radical inclusion and care for others. The affection, love and deep soul connection between these two spills over into all the friendships in their lives – Big George, Sipsy and Smokey Lonesome just being the named examples we know. It also shows the affection the community holds them both in when firstly Frank (Ruth’s husband who beat her) comes for Ruth’s baby and they rise to defend and protect. The mystery of Franks’ death being revealed at the end of both the film and book in it being Sipsy who killed him with a frying pan. And of course Idgy’s then selfless acceptance that she be the one tried for the murder – a black woman would have had little chance of justice or even the opportunity of a defence. The trial itself again shows the community pulling for our two soul-mates when the reverend lies on the stand giving Big George and Idgy an alibi. One sin to prevent a greater one. Is that something you would do for someone?
Not only are these women not interested in being bitchy to each other, they are examples of devotion and loyalty to each other, to family, to an idea. They embrace men and women alike in friendship (the partnership of men and women isn’t about marriage, but about the community of humanity coming together with the different strengths that each gender has – it’s about a full community, not a “boys only” club, or “only girls allowed”.) And they embrace the poor, the outcast, the needy. And this above all characterises their relationship and the story. The fact that everyone is welcome, regardless of background, race or wealth – and isn’t that truly what The Kingdom of Heaven is like? What a great example of Kingdom living – acceptance, storytelling, love and the joy of life – and a great antidote to the negative view of both women and men (because they too get short shrift in some of the stories and pictures we’re presented with).
So here you go boys and girls – this is the kind of story you can embrace to escape from the myth of the mean girl. Embrace joy, embrace friendship across genders, embrace having a soul mate or three, embrace inclusion, embrace acceptance – and embrace sharing your stories and discover others’ stories.