Precious, a film based on the novel, ‘Push’ by Sapphire, tells the story of Clarisse Precious Jones, an obese fifteen year old girl, who has been subjected to horrendous abuse and neglect all her life. The film opens showing her life as it has always been, presenting us with scenes from her tortured life. At home, she is the victim of sexual abuse from her mother’s boyfriend, her own father, and is bearing a second child by him (the first, who has Down’s Syndrome, is cared for elsewhere by her grandmother). Her mother, a pathetic and angry individual, shows not an ounce of love for her daughter. Not only does she fail to protect her from her father’s violent attacks, but she even blames her for diverting his attention away from her. She verbally abuses her, makes her cook and serve her, and forces her to eat meals when she isn’t hungry, while she sits, day after day, in front of trashy T.V. shows. At school, Precious is ignored or mocked by her peers, never speaks, and feels invisible, despite crude comments on her physical body. Her second pregnancy means she has to leave, but is given the opportunity to enroll in a special educational programme for socially deprived youths. It is at this point that the story begins.
I felt emotionally drawn into the film, and the scenes are so well captured that the intensity and violence is palpable. The lighting in the home scenes was bleak, and cast with a reddish tinge, with the only colour from the rooted television set. Furthermore, there is a constant bubbling sound from the pot of pigs hooves that Precious is cooking, and the steam and simmer speak of the heated and violent relationship. Relationship is hardly an appropriate word, as Precious is completely passive, and the unfortunate recipient of whatever is thrown at her, both metaphorically and literally.
Precious meets her kindly new teacher, Ms. Rain, who cares for Precious like a daughter. Precious also forges friendships with her new classmates who accept her as she is. In the safety of the small class setting, she feels able to participate. On her first day, she claims that speaking makes her feel present: ‘I feel here’. Joining this school was her first independent decision, and as she learns to read and write, she is enabled towards further independence, which is her salvation. Writing also helps her to discover who she is, and to develop her identity.
Much of the film is tear-provoking, and a scene in the classroom, when Precious just discovers she’s HIV positive, and that she ‘ain’t loved by no-one’, is one such scene. Here, the teacher’s response is essential, and in a beautifully executed piece of drama, she asserts her love for Precious, and continually invokes her to ‘Write’, as this, as they are both aware, is the only way for Precious to unburden some of the abuse that she carries within, and to open herself up to being loved.
Her social worker, played by Mariah Carey, is quite an interesting character, and becomes the link between Precious and her mother, after Precious has moved out. While she genuinely has Precious’ best interests at heart, having discovered the incest to which she was subjected, such ingrained trauma is beyond the realm of her experience. Precious points this out before walking out of the office after a convincing emotional performance by her mother as she tries to justify her heinous behaviour. I thought this was quite an interesting point as it showed how subjective the experience of each family is, how deeply entrenched the dysfunction becomes, and how despite a well-meaning outsider’s best efforts, this experience can never be fully understood.
This is where writing comes in for Precious. By being taught to read and write, she can become the creator of her own destiny, build up an awareness of herself, and begin to cast off some of the layers of her past, in a bid to forge a brighter future.