Cozy conversation with Maria late yesterday evening. Cozy because it was dark and windy outside and I was sitting near the soft orange glow of my heater in this little atelier of mine. She and I discussed, in turn, the Sophia thing, her needing to go to the doctor for a follow up exam, and David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive.”
By now anything we say regarding Sophia has been repeated many times before. Which is probably why we spoke so quietly about it. As I told my agent the other day the “furor”—if indeed there ever was one—has subsided. What’s left is gray melancholy and wistful regret.
It may seem that Sophia’s silence is calculated, but it’s more likely an involuntary reaction, much like what happens to people who have Attention Deficit Disorder.
A barrage of information—or a perceived threat—brings on a sort of mental paralysis most others don’t experience, and ADD sufferers know in this state they’re dangerously vulnerable. So they immediately retreat. Maria has always reacted in this defensive way, so it’s no surprise that Sophia does as well.
An example can be seen in a recent interview Sophia and her son Edoardo gave to a reporter from The New York Times.
Mr. Ponti tries to explain: "It is for me this great, great sensitivity that she has in a way. I think that what we have to talk about is the hair-trigger emotionality of this person, of really being so honest with her heart, with her feelings, which in essence makes a person vulnerable."
He gestures to his mother, who is sitting with her hands clasped in her lap.
"Look at her body language now," Mr. Ponti says.
Ms. Loren laughs nervously.
"Please," she says softly, in a way so that one is not certain this should continue.
"What does that say?" the son presses.
That she is trying to keep herself from speaking and let her son have the floor?
"I think she is bracing herself, because we talk about her and it makes her shy in a certain way," Mr. Ponti says.
* * *
“…shy in a certain way…” is another way of describing paralysis, no?
Sophia’s hands are clasped in her lap. She says nothing. It’s clearly passive, defensive behavior. Her vulnerability is touching.
“Look at her body language now,” Edoardo says, as if she were not a person but an object.
I wonder. Are these the words of a loving, adoring son?
* * *
All this is of more interest to a novelist than it is to a journalist. The University of Chicago’s Harold Bloom says, "The representation of human character and personality remain always the supreme literary value."
In Vittoria’s Island I’m painting a portrait of Sophia, and I’m trying hard to interpret what lies beneath the surface of her stardom. It’s not unreasonable to seek clues to the meaning of Sophia’s behavior by examining Maria’s. They obviously look alike, so perhaps they act alike as well.
Early on my initial conclusions about Maria’s motives turned out to be wrong because I fell into the fallacy of shared assumptions. It’s a cultural thing, mostly. She’s wholly Italian, even though she’s been in America for 29 years.
When I say I’ll do something, I feel obliged to do it. When Maria makes a promise very often she’s merely telling me what I want to hear—an Italian specialty. Her motive is not to deceive, but rather to meet my expectations, at least for the time being. Which is why after a great number of disappointments I still regard her as the most guileless woman I’ve ever known.
My critics see this as an unsupported rationalization. Why should Maria get a pass for what’s clearly outrageous and thoughtless behavior? Everyone ought to be fully accountable for what they do, don’t you think?
* * *
Sophia’s reaction to the adoption story media blitz is silence. Many say, “How could a woman NOT acknowledge her own flesh and blood?”
Maria’s reaction to the news she was adopted, and that Sophia is her biological mother, is to disappear into silence for 40 days. Many say, “Why doesn’t Maria just grow up and deal with it?”
When my son failed do what was expected of him at high school, the experts believed he was merely irresponsible and lazy, and just needed punishment. When punishment had no effect they concluded he was not worth working with. In ignorance and haste these experts did not diagnose Attention Deficit Disorder. The poor boy was wholly dysfunctional in that situation. The failure wasn’t Stephen's fault, but the experts succeeded in making him and everyone else believe it was.
So much for the opinion of experts.