“The Skeleton Twins” (2014). Cast: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Joanna Gleason, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook, Sydney Lucas, Eddie Schweighart. Director: Craig Johnson. Screenplay: Mark Heyman and Craig Johnson. Web site. Trailer.
When life doesn’t work out as hoped for, disappointment is sure to set in. But, when that disappointment gets to be more than we can bear, it can easily turn into despair. How we respond to those circumstances, however, is what ultimately matters most, as a pair of confused siblings discover for themselves in the quirky new comedy-drama, “The Skeleton Twins.”
What choices do we have when we believe our lives suck and we can’t fathom why? That’s a question a disillusioned brother and sister have been asking themselves for years. And, with no suitable answers readily forthcoming, they’re about to take drastic action to address their personal dissatisfaction.
For Milo Dean (Bill Hader), a single gay man living in Los Angeles who works as a waiter while struggling to build an acting career, life is tedious, boring and unfulfilling, and he’s sick of it. His sister Maggie (Kristen Wiig), a married dental hygienist living in New York’s Hudson Valley where she and her brother grew up, feels trapped by life’s stifling mediocrity and perpetually takes classes in various diversions, like scuba diving, in hopes that they’ll provide her with some kind of inspirational spark. Both of them clearly have trouble coping with their situations. But that’s all about to change.
When a medical emergency reunites Milo and Maggie after a protracted estrangement, they tentatively renew their connection. It’s not that they dislike one another; in fact, they had been quite close while growing up, as seen in several flashbacks to their younger selves (Sydney Lucas, Eddie Schweighart). They just drifted apart over time, especially when their growing discontent with life in general led each of them to let their most significant ties deteriorate. This was particularly true in the wake of their father’s unexplained suicide when they were teens, an event that left an indelible mark on both of them.
With their bond renewed, Milo and Maggie discover they still enjoy one another’s company, taking comfort in the mutual support their relationship affords. Milo even decides to avail himself of Maggie’s invitation to come stay with her and her husband, Lance (Luke Wilson), while he recuperates. And so, with a mixture of trepidation and hopefulness, Milo joins his sister in a return to their roots. But, once reunited, the siblings quickly find that they still must contend with their personal anguish. However, unlike before, at least they now have each other to lean on as they sort out their feelings and seek resolution.
So why are Milo and Maggie so distraught? That’s a good question, one that even they don’t seem entirely clear about. There are hints, to be sure, such as their father’s aforementioned suicide. Then there’s their conflicted feelings toward their inattentive mother, Judy (Joanna Gleason), a flighty free spirit who’s typically more interested in the latest New Age fad than in her children’s well-being. Milo also wrestles with unresolved feelings about a failed romance with an old flame, Rich (Ty Burrell), while Maggie seeks to understand her inexplicable restlessness toward Lance, a genuinely nice guy whose perpetually upbeat, always-considerate attitude quietly drives her crazy.
But, with the exception of their dad’s death, is there anything here that’s really so tragic? Most of us would probably say “No.” However, it’s unlikely that Milo and Maggie would concur with that assessment, primarily because that’s the nature of their prevailing outlook, one based on what they believe. And what they believe, of course, is what generates the reality they experience, a fundamental principle that governs the functioning of the conscious creation process. Moreover, the longer they buy into those beliefs, the more entrenched those notions – and their existence – become.
Thus, if Milo and Maggie wish to understand the nature of their circumstances, they should look to themselves first. If their beliefs create their reality, and their beliefs are based on the premise that life is awful, it doesn’t take much to figure out what kind of existence they’ll manifest for themselves.
Most of us would probably find that prospect depressing. However, given that we always have access to an infinite range of beliefs (and, by extension, an infinite range of possibilities capable of materializing from them), we’re not locked into the infinite perpetuation of those conditions. Change is indeed possible. But it begins with us and the beliefs we hold, and, as long as we’re willing to adjust our thinking, alterations to our circumstances are attainable. Failing that, though, we’re destined to stay stuck in place, and that’s a realization Milo and Maggie must come to if they ever hope to alleviate their anxiety – and make a fresh start.
In examining our beliefs (and, consequently, what we manifest from them), it’s imperative that we take responsibility for them. That can be challenging, especially if we discover we dislike what we believe (and, hence, what we create). It may be highly tempting to play the victim under those circumstances, to seek to lay blame elsewhere. But, if we buy into the concept of conscious creation, then we must also accept that we create our reality in its totality, for better or worse.
Coming to terms with that can be problematic, especially if we find out we’ve embraced troublesome (and potentially damaging) beliefs, such as those associated with things like self-sabotage. We might not want to acknowledge their existence, perhaps even going so far as to deny them outright. This is something the siblings would be wise to ponder.
For instance, Maggie has married someone who genuinely adores her, but she often sees him as an annoying, squeaky clean geek. Rather than reciprocate the commitment and devotion Lance shows her, she continually engages in behavior destined to undermine the loving relationship she’s created, such as ridiculing him behind his back and even pursuing dalliances with other men, like her scuba diving instructor, Billy (Boyd Holbrook). Likewise, as a single man, Milo has the freedom to look for love with anyone he wants. Yet, rather than exercise that option, he instead wallows in the overly idealized memories of his involvement with Rich, an unhealthy relationship that was assured to fail from the outset.
If the fallout from such circumstances upsets Maggie and Milo, then they must look to themselves to rectify matters, and the only way they’ll be able to change their lot is to determine why they hold the beliefs that materialized those conditions in the first place. This involves cutting through their personal belief clutter, taking themselves down to the bare bones level of their respective perspectives – like that of a skeleton – to see what thoughts and intents lurk in their consciousness, no matter what they may be. Such determinations are essential if we hope to rewrite the beliefs we put forth to create anew.
Given the overall state of Milo and Maggie’s lives, which many of us may see as reasonably pleasant, some viewers might look upon the siblings as a pair of whiny brats trapped in trumped-up dramas of their own making. And, logically speaking, that assessment would indeed have some merit. Nevertheless, as anyone who genuinely understands conscious creation knows, our beliefs don’t know logic; they simply exist and function to manifest the reality we experience (often persisting rather stubbornly in doing so, too). This is not to give Milo and Maggie an out for the nature of their creations; it’s simply meant to show how they arrived where they are in their lives – and why implementing changes can be challenging.
Still, if looking to ourselves is the key to rewriting our beliefs (especially those we dislike), why don’t we do this more readily when the need arises? While circumstances vary from individual to individual, the most likely culprit is fear. By being afraid (i.e., unwilling) to look further afield from what we already know, we stay locked in place, regardless of whether or not the creations that spring forth from those manifesting beliefs serve us. In many instances, we can alleviate this issue by working on developing the qualities that help us better understand our intents, such as our intuition. But, by failing to take responsibility for this (as Milo and Maggie do – and apparently have for quite a long time), we keep ourselves from finding the true happiness we’re each capable of realizing. We can only hope the siblings discover this for themselves – while they still have the chance.
“The Skeleton Twins” is a wonderful little gem of a movie, with great performances by Wiig, Hader and Gleason. Its well-written, award-winning screenplay is full of wit without ever sounding forced or contrived. At the same time, the script doesn’t hesitate to go for the jugular, either, unhesitatingly exposing the protagonists’ raw emotions at key junctures in the story. What’s more, the film doesn’t spoon-feed viewers, letting the narrative’s events and the picture’s character development speak volumes in making its points. All told, this is a terrific cinematic offering to help fill the void that typically comes between the blockbuster summer movie season and the run-up to the release of awards season contenders.
Working through life’s pains can be a daunting prospect, one in which we often feel alone. But having someone by our side to accompany us through the turmoil certainly helps, if in no other way than to make the journey a little easier and more comforting. In that regard, Milo and Maggie are truly fortunate to have one another. And, if they play their cards right, they just might find the happiness that has long alluded them, a lesson we can all learn from.
Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.