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'Bernadette' Is A Cautionary Tale About Putting Creativity Aside After Kids

Cate Blanchett stars as a mom on the run in the new movie adaptation of <em>Where'd You Go, Bernadette.</em>
Wilson Webb
Cate Blanchett stars as a mom on the run in the new movie adaptation of Where'd You Go, Bernadette.

Bernadette Fox is a successful architect who's in a rut. She hasn't designed anything in 20 years. Now she's a mother with insomnia who claims to hate everyone except her daughter, Bee.

Then, one day, she disappears — after her husband calls for an intervention on her behalf. Where'd You Go, Bernadette has been adapted from Maria Semple's 2012 novel into a movie, starring Cate Blanchett and directed by Richard Linklater.

Linklater says it was the "utter complexity" of Bernadette's character that drew him to the project. Also, "the notion of an artist who's not making their art — which haunts every artist," he says — himself included.

Blanchett describes her character as a MacArthur "genius" in an apparently happy marriage — but "she then had a series of miscarriages, and so grief started to enter her life. And at the same time, she experienced massive, monumental, creative failure."

Bernadette runs away and ends up in Seattle — "and so Seattle became the point of all her rage and frustration and grief," Blanchett explains.

Interview Highlights

On the film's negative take on Seattle

Linklater: I love Seattle. I've had nothing but great experiences there. It just shows that anyone can be in a wonderful city, and if you're miserable you can take it out on whatever your surroundings happen to be.

Blanchett:And I think also, as someone said to me recently, that you only have the right to hate what you love.

Linklater:You have to earn your love-hate relationship.

Blanchett:And Bernadette definitely does that.

On Bernadette's family life

Blanchett:I think it's a portrait of a marriage, and of a family, as much as it is about a creative journey. I think that there's a point that a lot of people could connect to in their own relationships: As one person's career is taking off, another one is stepping back — and then how do you reenter the thing that you meant to be doing, which is creating and making something? And how do you juggle that with letting your child go? Because apart from her being a creative force, Bernadette's also someone who is incapable of entering the next chapter of her life. And I think that a lot of people — whether they're fathers or mothers — find that really difficult.

Creativity thwarted is probably the most toxic thing in the world. You know, the artist thwarted is lethal.

Linklater: Creativity thwarted is probably the most toxic thing in the world. You know, the artist thwarted is lethal.

Blanchett: And I think, too, that a creative energy — which we have as humans — it will out. I've been running away from being an actor my entire life! It's always like, this is the last one ... but it does pursue you. And I think that's the thing, is Bernadette has said, "No, I've made a promise. ... She was blue, and I promised whatever higher force there is that if she survives, I'm going to put all my creative energy into my child" — which she did.

And the problem is the child is now getting ready to leave, and she's got all this energy, and so if she doesn't adhere it to a project, to creating and making something new, she's going to start feeding on herself, and start feeding on her neighbor, and on Seattle and on her marriage. And fortunately she — without wanting to give the game away — she does find something.

On Bernadette's "best friend" relationship with her daughter

Blanchett:I do say to my kids a lot: "In the end, I love you — but I'm your mother, I'm not your friend." So you've got to let your children go out into the world and make, and connect to their own generation, and be who they're going to be outside the home. It's really painful and difficult. And the thing is, Bernadette is really isolated, in a way, her daughter is really isolated, and now she's going to move on and go away to school. And so they've both got to let something very precious and very special go.

On whether the film is uplifting in the end

Linklater: I hope so, because to me this is the definition of a hard-earned optimism or hopefulness. It didn't come easy for anyone in this film, despite their apparent privilege. If there's any message here, it's: You have to kind of grind it out — and you know, I wasn't trying to make a simple, satisfying ending.

This interview was produced for radio by Ian Stewart and Sophia Boyd, and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer and Beth Novey.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.