How happy would you be if you spent your life living a delusion?
This thought sums up the theme of Marguerite, the French film is inspired by the life of 20th century American socialite Florence Foster Jenkins. Marguerite is a dowager who fancies herself a soprano; she can indulge in this fantasy because she has wealth, a husband with a title, and a network of friends and associates who appreciate her largesse. There is only one problem; Marguerite cannot sing. In fact she’s tone deaf as well as painfully and comically off-key. [Note: Meryl Streep stars in the title role of the film, Florence Foster Jenkins, which is based more closely on Jenkins’s life.]
While the film plays up the hilarity of a woman living out of touch with reality, it does provoke the question: is there a bit of Marguerite in all of us? Well, there is in me. My hobby is playing piano; I have a twice-monthly gig at a local memory care center. There I can indulge my fantasy of playing in public. No one there complains (too much) when I hit the wrong chord, misplay a melody or slaughter the time signature.
Research shows us that some amount of self-deception can be healthy because it enables us to focus on our positive selves and in turn achieve our intentions. This does not mean we all have the capacity to sing operatic arias, hit a major league curveball, or become a CEO. The “positive form of ‘self-deception’ must always work in conjunction with ongoing self-awareness and self-examination,” writes psychologist Douglas LaBier Ph.D.in Psychology Today. Your vision of possibility must be grounded in effectively dealing with reality.”
Self-awareness in Marguerite is sadly overpowered by her all-consuming passion for music. She cares deeply about music and her desire to perform in public knows few bounds. Those around her – husband, butler, and music teacher – are to blame for maintaining Marguerite’s delusion but as the story unfolds we discover that each of them to one degree or another wants her to succeed.
The tragedy of Marguerite is that she is obsessed with an illusion she cannot make real. No amount of singing lessons can help her sing as well as she imagines she sings. Marguerite is a good and kind person and people do like her but sadly her delusion defines her. We all know people like Marguerite. Indulging in a harmless illusion may be enjoyable but when it threatens to steamroll your life, it must be addressed.
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