Elizabeth Berry In ‘May December’ Is Not Based On A Real-Life Person But Has A Deeper Meaning


May December, directed by Todd Haynes, made us privy to a rather intrusive character named Elizabeth Berry, whose sole agent was to get to know the person she was going to play on screen and do justice to it. Elizabeth Berry came to shadow Gracie Atherton as she was playing her in the biopic that was being made. The scandal had stirred the entire nation, and the media houses made sure that it became the talk of the town. Gracie and Joe’s case was one of its kind, and probably nobody had ever witnessed something like that before. A woman was sent to jail for pedophilic activities, and then she came out and married the same man with whom she was accused of indulging. It was as if she wanted to prove to society that her intentions were never malicious, and she loved Joe when he was 13 years old, and he even loves him now. Her narrative was not believable, and even for a moment, we couldn’t believe that something like that could have happened. The first claim that she made was that it was Joe who pulled her into it, and had he not been the one who initiated things, she wouldn’t have indulged. Well, for any prudent man, it was difficult to believe that a 13-year-old could woo a woman who was mature enough to understand the ramifications of her actions. But still, she portrayed herself as the victim, and even Elizabeth Berry was quite intrigued to understand the dynamic between them. The first day that Elizabeth came to Gracie’s house, she saw that someone had sent a box of feces to them just to show how disgusted they felt at what they were doing. Gracie and Joe both said that it was pretty normal for them to revive such hate, and it only increased the curiosity that Elizabeth had.

Elizabeth desperately wanted some inspiration for the character she was going to play, and she was ready to go to any extent for it. She wanted to know the nitty-gritty details of the relationship beyond what was told in the media. She wanted to understand if Gracie was just delusional in believing what she did or if he was just pretending around her. Gracie was a bit apprehensive about letting Elizabeth into her life, and she didn’t like the fact that she was poking her nose at every private matter. As for Elizabeth, she was as unabashed and unashamed as the media houses are today. For us, she was a personification of the media culture that is prevalent today, and that is rotting the foundations of our society. She completely disregarded their privacy, and she also didn’t care about their feelings. On the face of it, she felt like a very genuine person, but the reality was that she didn’t care if her actions adversely impacted Joe and Gracie’s relationship as long as she was getting to know some secret or some hidden detail. She was as selfish as an actor could be, and though it took us time to understand the kind of person she was, till the end, her passive-domineering actions made us privy to what was actually going on inside her mind.

Actors are often blamed for being narcissistic, obsessed, and selfish, and Elizabeth was an embodiment of all those perceptions. Elizabeth might have figured out that Gracie was influencing Joe to be a certain way, and the poor boy was not acting on his free will. But the irony was that, in pursuit of getting inspiration for the job she was supported to do, Elizabeth did the same thing. She lured Joe and made him believe that they had some connection between them. Joe hadn’t witnessed anything like that before. He knew how insecure Gracie got if he did anything against her wishes, so he curbed his feelings and told himself that this was how life was going to be. But he discovered a very different side of himself when Elizabeth started talking to him. He genuinely felt that he would have someone with whom he would be able to share how he felt. Elizabeth got intimate with Joe, but soon, the latter realized that she was doing it merely to get inspiration and understand the character she was going to play on screen, and that realization broke his heart. Elizabeth very unabashedly told him that this was how adults behaved, and the poor boy felt shattered. What Elizabeth did with Joe was not acceptable.

At that moment, we realized that Elizabeth was devoid of any empathy, as she didn’t have an iota of guilt for what she had done. She took it as a part of her job, and she was very unapologetic about it. Time and again, Elizabeth’s coldness reminded us of the media culture prevalent in our society. They don’t care if they are infringing on the privacy of an individual or hurting anybody’s sentiment or not, and all they care about is if they get their news bites. Similarly, Elizabeth only cared about her own research work, and her only priority was to get the hang of the character, even if it meant ruining the relationship between the concerned parties.

Elizabeth also read a letter that Gracie wrote for Joe back in the day, and at the end of May December, she was finally satisfied as she believed that she understood who Gracie was. Elizabeth’s presence created a rift between Gracie and Joe, but the actor had no qualms about it. She didn’t care what happened to them as long as she got what she wanted. In the end, we saw Elizabeth enacting a scene, and we saw that contentment in her eyes when she realized that she was getting a sense of who Gracie was in reality.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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