As a card carrying member of the Pluto in Libra generation, this planet-sign has always been hard for me to really feel in my gut. There’s the shadow of Libra: obsession with appearance & beauty, rejection/repression of the baser qualities that make us ugly/unlikable, obsessing over relationship, hiding our dark not-so-nice urges, etc. But as such mental gyrations only scratch the surface of Pluto’s depth, I was happy to stumble onto The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, a movie that was artistically beautiful, but cut far deeper, subtler & whipsaw smarter than first appeared — which also happens to be qualities I ascribe to the Pluto in Libra generation. Pippa speaks of the power of relationship (and its wounds) to shape and transform our lives, and in ways we may not consciously realize.
Pippa, played by Goddess icon/Princess Bride Robin Wright Penn (who despite having been married to and recently divorced from a hand-full of a husband, Sean Penn, is as fresh-faced, tender & tough as ever), has just moved to a retirement village with her husband, a wealthy publishing player thirty years her senior, named Hal. The opening scene begins with a dinner party, in which a longtime friend praises Pippa’s husband and then makes a toast to the hostess, the elegant stylish Pippa, remarking that despite knowing her for decades, she is a mysterious enigma, “I will never really know her.” Is this a compliment? The camera scans her thoughtful face for a response…and to make sure we get the point (of the movie): we get none, & we’re left wondering who she is. Even people we think we know have led many lives, lives we never know.
Pippa answers with the story of her life, “…Like many people, I’ve lived more than one life.” Flashback to being raised by a manic and speed-addicted mother (Maria Bello) who, when not late night binging on manic vacuum cleaning sessions, treated Pippa like a mini-me doll, making her dress up and pose for photographs. After a heart-wrenching scene where she learns her mother would happily ‘destroy my life, too’, Pippa realizes it’s not her job to make her mother happy, and besides it’s impossible. So Pippa moves out to get away from her mother’s sickness, and moves in with the cool and artsy lesbian Aunt (Julianne Moore), whose partner, a photographer, sees the beautiful young Pippa (played by a luminous Blake Lively) as ‘sent from heaven’ just for her! Like a My Pretty Pony doll, she dresses her up and puts her in S&M postures all for a fictional character from her new ‘book’. Yeah, right! The whole exercise looks like a snuff film. Older Pippa reflects: It was strange at first but I did it because I really liked them, and…why not?
She could keep drifting through life in this way, dressing like an artist but not being one, sort of used by boyfriends –sort of because she doesn’t protest, yet has no ambition to do anything differently. Then at a party, she meets Hal, a wealthy older (secure) married man who asks, ‘Don’t you have ambitions? Everyone around here has a screenplay or book…’ She says no, she doesn’t, and her admission is so authentic and poignant that you begin to think the people with ambitions of success are poseurs, and that sweet authentic Pippa is the real deal. Of course they fall in love…and when he decides to leave his ‘crazy’ wife, the devastatingly dark beauty Monica Belluci (who has Venus in Leo, opposed by Saturn) invites them both to lunch, sits down to a nice gourmet meal, puts a gun in her mouth and kills her self (How Pluto in Libra is this?). As Pippa washes the blood from her dress, she narrates, “The day I married Hal, I married her, too… and I also decided that I wouldn’t be a fuck-up anymore. I would be good.” Fast-forward through years of marriage where Pippa says, ‘I didn’t know how to be this person, I figured if I just kept repeating the tasks over and over, it would stick. Eventually it did, when I had my kids… I finally believed this was my life.’
In case you want to jump to the conclusion this is a mid-life crisis about to happen, a cliched story about waking up at mid-life to discover you’ve had your soul sucked out by marriage & family, the movie surprises by making us think about the choices we all make at certain times to live one life, and leave another behind. Where do those other lives go? For Pippa, as for many of us, it’s never quite a clean break.
In the present day, Pippa starts doing crazy things she doesn’t remember, remembering things that ‘should be left alone’, at least according to Hal; she is remembering that someone valuable was left behind when she decided to be ‘Good’. Bad Pippa was ax’d, buried down deep in her unconscious for so long that the only way Bad Pippa can make a comeback is when she’s literally unconscious. Good Pippa wakes up in the morning to find the kitchen smeared with chocolate icing and cake, and trash everywhere. At first she thinks it’s Hal’s early decline into senility; until they install a camcorder and a horrified Pippa discovers- it is she. She’s also been sleep driving… to the 7-11 to buy packs of smokes, which is where she meets Chris, (played by Keanu Reeves, a heading into middle-age fuck-up whose in the middle of his own crisis), the night shift clerk. Forged by their mutual fucke-uped-ness, Chris and Pippa strike up an unlikely friendship-turning-into-romance that becomes more likely after she discovers Hal is having an affair with her best friend (played by Winona Ryder. Note to Hollywood: you can’t go wrong casting Winona as The Betrayer). With Chris, another fuck-up, she is befriending that part of her self she lost when she decided to be Good Pippa.
This is a Pluto in Libra story — it is civilized, elegant, and in the way the Pluto in Libran sensibility can appreciate both the beauty & sadness in petals that fall from a perfect (and dying) flower, it is also a Pluto-Libra nightmare. Like the Pluto in Libra generation, Pippa’s life is fashioned, and scarred, by her relationship to others. Pluto in Libra born understand the power of relationship. We empathize with Pippa’s trade-offs: in playing the muse, one cannot be the artist; in assuming a support role, one is not the main act. And when her daughter is admittedly mean to Pippa, in being mild-mannered and an objective (not suffocating, unlike her own mother) influence, in an attempt to balance the scales Pippa swings too far in the other extreme…and risks being mistaken for weak (which she’s not). All are Libran themes. Being a relationship-oriented person, interdependent with others—there is a generation of us to prove that this time, for deeply learning how to be in a rewarding partnership, has come. Pippa is defined through and by her partnerships, but there is a clear problem: Pippa’s partners can only remark on how sweet, kind, good and nice she is. She is so deeply, extremely, polarized. And this (not a mid-life crisis), is the issue at the core of this film, and, to me, the Pluto in Libra generation. We can give a person everything we’ve got; our goodness, beauty & kindness and we can still have our heart shattered; we can still be betrayed (as Hal’s dead ex-wife testifies, right before she shoots her self). We will love, and we love well, but we can still lose. There are no guarantees. Still. Pluto in Libra is learning to not polarize into extremes, within our partnerships, our selves, in life; we were born with the high destiny: Get Along. Libra civilizes, compromises, makes nice, balances- and the ambiguity surrounding that cost, the fuzzy space in between, can be haunting.
We all have private lives, many private lives. We have lives unlived, lives half-lived, half-baked lives, lives fully lived and lives half-healed and then tucked away. Our unconscious holds them; these lives invisibly live beneath the surface of our above ground lives, guiding and influencing us in mysterious ways. In major or minor ways (from relationship problems to ‘out of character’ obsessions to eating disorders to simply making us rich & fascinating people) what we do not see directs our true experience- as we go along thinking we’re in charge. At times the dam bursts, and identities we left behind overtake us: this eruption or radical break usually coincides with outer planet transits of Uranus, Neptune and/or Pluto. But to consider what is hidden & powerful, we think Pluto (Lord of Death… and repression) Scorpio and the Eighth House. That’s where we stick a self-part we ‘shouldn’t’ be – an unsavory or subversive character quality – we stick that baddie there.
Here’s my own oddball parallel: leave it to Mercury retrograde to deliver a message from the Underworld (Mercury was the only God allowed to pass into the Underworld). This weekend, sorting through my mailI was about to trash a health insurance card from a company I’m not even a member of, but this time the name on the card catches my eye: Jessica BAD Shepherd. Now if I took this as an expression of my unconscious, (which I did), there’s a BAD Jessica Shepherd walking around. She has an identity, at least according to Blue Cross/Blue Shield. She has health insurance, should she need it. The Private Lives of Jessica BAD Shepherd? …Just thinking about the possibilities. Pluto transit ya’know…I’ve heard it’s good to be bad.
I’ve quoted Duncan Nanney’s Pluto transit advice on this blog before, and this likely won’t be the last: Under a Saturn transit you should do that thing you really don’t want to do, but under a Pluto transit you need to do all the things you really shouldn’t. But for the life of me (although my health-conscious above ground Self may force Bad Jessica to get a pack of Marlboros and binge on chocolate cake at midnight) I can’t figure out what I shouldn’t do. Maybe because there is no clear answer; on right or wrong, bad/good the jury is officially out (it’s a maddening lesson in holding a calm center when there’s no one answer. Call us late for dinner, but whatever you do, don’t call us weak or passive for remaining neutral!) But here’s the wisdom-self take away, also a theme in this film: If time teaches anything, it’s that life is far more nuanced, subtler than we think. Most of us cannot divide our choices into good or bad. Sure, we want to tie life up neatly, smooth over the wrinkles on the surface, and yes, we, like Pippa, may even consider it a gratifying personal success when we find the gourmet market that carries the rare french cheese that makes our partner happy.
For many born with Pluto in Libra, the privacies we harbor inside our soul may not be the earth-shattering variety– but the consequences of living a civilized, others-oriented life. There may be no denial to penetrate, no elephant in the room, no veil of darkness to peel back in our partnership. But oh, how we do appreciate the dark, forbidden Aries victories of Selfhood when it happens. As a balance to a life lived dedicated to peace & partnership, maybe that’s our secret pleasure. When, on the day of Hal’s funeral, Pippa declares to her mystified kids: ‘I’m going on a trip. I spent years cooking twice a week for the woman your father had an affair with. I’ll let her organize your father’s funeral,’… you wanna say: Go on with your Bad self.