How on earth did I not know who Joan Didion was? And more importantly, HOW, I repeat HOW, did I not know she was one of the most celebrated and talented writer/journalists in the world? One day I was scrolling Twitter and actress Sarah Paulson (American Crime Story, Carol) tweeted that she was excited to watch the new Netflix documentary, Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold. I had no idea who this Joan Didion person was but if Sarah Paulson was going to watch a movie about her, I was too. I didn’t realize that Didion would become a hero of mine in just 94 minutes.
The movie is directed by Griffin Dunne (The Good Wife, Practical Magic), Didion’s nephew, and it is a simple yet beautiful documentary about Didion’s life and work. In her interviews, she was well into her 80s and I found myself reeling from her every word. When she spoke, she had these over the top hand gestures that lured me in. It was like she was casting a spell and I was falling in love with her magic.
Although there are many noteworthy moments in The Center Will Not Hold, one in particular made me yell out, “What the hell, Joan!?” Didion and her nephew recall one of her most popular articles about drugs in the 60s. She wrote about a five-year-old girl she had witnessed foaming at the mouth and tripping on acid. Multiple people are interviewed about the incident and they comment on how horrible it was to witness this scene in real life. When Didion was asked how she felt in that moment, she thought long and hard about her answer. Then she said, “it was gold.” That was the moment I knew I LOVED this woman. She was brutally honest. I don’t doubt for a second that she was not horrified at the sight of a child on drugs. But she was a writer and a journalist and she had a job to do.
That ability to see something unpleasant and write about it is why Didion is so fascinating to the world. She’s written about the Manson murders, drugs, and the feminist movement but Didion also writes about the tragedy in her personal life. The film tells the story of two particular events where she almost succumbed to the agony of it all and then how she triumphed and continued to write.
I absolutely adored Joan Didion. When other women writers were writing about fashion trends and makeup tips on the pages of Vogue, she was on the next page inspiring women to live their best lives, encouraging them to value their womanhood and be whoever they wanted to be in the world. She didn’t conform to her surroundings, she was simply, Joan. If I am half as courageous in my writing when I get to her age, I will be a happy writer indeed. I am so fucken glad I saw that Tweet from Sarah Paulson.