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Joan Didion Documentary: A Writer’s Life and Loss

Joan Didion Documentary: A Writer's Life and Loss | NextTribe

Now playing on Netflix is Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, a remarkable documentary about the writer whose work has defined more than a generation.  Many of us know Didion’s name, whether from her wrenching 2005 book, The Year of Magical Thinking which explores her grief upon her husband’s death, or perhaps from seeing our own mothers read 1970’s Play It As It Lays.

This film captures her at age 82, waif-like but full of energy and emotion, gesticulating as she reminisces with her on-screen interviewer, nephew Griffin Dunne, who funded this project on Kickstarter. It’s a tribute to her creative spirit and keen intellect: We hear about her professional coups — reporting on California hippie culture, scripting movies, covering El Salvador’s political unrest. Clips of past interviews show Didion immersed in the mood of those eras and distilling them for her readers.

But the heart of the film is seeing Didion today, grappling with the emotional heart of her life — the loss of both her husband and her daughter in less than two years’ time. Seeing her pore over old photos, alluding to her daughter finding her to be a “remote” parent, or describing the evening of her husband’s death – these are deeply affecting moments, with Didion’s eyes and hands communicating more than her words can. Beyond creating a portrait of a notable creative force, The Center Will Not Hold will stick with you, thanks to these intimate yet universal moments.

Janet Siroto


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