WARNING: This ENTIRE post contains MAJOR, HUGE, SPOILERS! If you’re wondering what is Tully about and trying to decide if you should see it – Read at your own risk! Personally, I knew all the spoilers before I went to see the movie and I’m glad I knew what I was getting into and still greatly enjoyed the movie. But you may be be totally different. If you do not like spoilers, do not read below the dashed line!
So you now the movie Tully that’s out right now? If you’re a mom, and/or part of mom groups, you’ve probably seen the movie discussed. The trailers show a slightly humorous depiction of the hard times of early motherhood. Then a night nanny is hired. Overall it looks like a kind of sweet, emotional, realistic tribute to motherhood. Right?
But maybe a blogger you follow criticized the twist of the movie, stating that “postpartum psychosis isn’t a joke” and that they refused to see it and that YOU probably shouldn’t see it either. And then maybe you read an article about how the movie downplays important mental health issues, and you think, wait, maybe I shouldn’t see it?? Maybe you had postpartum depression and are worried that this movie will do a disservice to what you went through.
So what is Tully about?
Well, hold on, because I have a whoooole lot to say and unpack from this film.
Ok. Here goes. I really wish people would stop making so many snap judgments for or against a movie based off what they think a movie is about…without actually having seen it.
One of the things I hope to do with this blog is help bridge the gap between what many people think is the culture of ‘Hollywood’ and what we’re actually like here. It’s not two sides fighting against each other; ‘Hollywood’ is not out to destroy society. We have a lot more in common than you might realize.
So I encourage you to look at the movie Tully as a movie with many layers, rather than oversimplifying it into a singular issue so that you can state whether or not you with agree with it. The world is complex and beautiful. So is this movie.
I get why most people don’t like spoilers. Especially if there’s any kind of twist or surprise ending. But I’m weird, and I often prefer knowing what I’m getting into to. And for this film, I think that knowing the twist beforehand allowed me to have a richer experience when watching, rather than feeling awkward, suspicious, and turned off when things started getting strange.
If you haven’t already seen the movie, here’s the big spoiler:
Tully, the night nanny, doesn’t actually exist. The main character, Marlo, just made her up.
But oh, there is so, so, so, so much more to the movie than just this twist.
Wait and see.
No, I have never had postpartum psychosis. No, I’ve never been diagnosed with postpartum depression. But. Motherhood is hard and I’ve had I’ve had my hard days too.
Look, this 3rd kid has been hard for me. The mental overwhelm has just about done me in more than once. I remember the very moment, when he was a day or two old, where I’d set him on the couch to go get something. And he let out a scream.
Not just a scream. He wailed.
In the highest high pitch, bloody murder, scream I didn’t even know babies could do.
And that was the moment that I knew that this 3rd kid was going to be a challenge. Sure enough as the weeks passed, my baby continued to scream rather than cry.
His screams for seemingly constant attention rattled my brain like nothing ever has.
In those early months of three kids, I survived by partial insanity. I accidentally pulled a shelf down on my head in frustration of a baby who would not shut up while I was trying to take a shower. I lost my backpack at the state fair, swearing that it was stolen from right under my nose. I had many moments where I seriously couldn’t take it anymore and had no choice but to put the kid in his crib, walk away, shut the door, go into my own room and put a pillow over my head to drown out his screaming. Either that, or I’d cope by completely and roboticly zoning out to the emotional needs of both him and my other kids. Hey, it was better than many other alternatives I could’ve taken, ok?
I don’t admit any of this for pity or attention. I’m being honest about this because I think it’s important to acknowledge that there are times in motherhood that are un-believably emotionally and psychologically hard.
And that it’s ok to admit this.
It’s ok to say, hey – I’m drowning here.
It’s ok to NOT have to label and diagnose every emotional aspect of motherhood as something wrong with us.
It’s ok to sometimes not be ok.
Apparently some blog posts and articles really hated that Tully was vague and open ended when it came to Marlo’s mental health or her son’s “quirkiness”. But I really liked this. I liked that the movie did not give simple, pat answers to everything in life. Or dole out official diagnoses in an attempt to “fix” things.
The world is complex, remember? Just like this movie. There are not usually easy answers to anything.
If you’ve seen the movie, do you remember the scene in the school hallway when Marlo’s son freaks out because someone flushed the toilet? (btw, I’m pretty sure this exact scene has happened to me with my daughter, except it was the air dryer instead of the flushing toilet). And there was a random teacher guy who told Marlo that she didn’t need to apologize for her son’s emotions? I think he said something else really wise that I can’t remember now too, but basically:
We do not have to put people into easy-to-digest boxes in order to try to understand them.
I’m so thankful that this movie did not cower to simplistic explanations.
I’m just gonna come out and say it, but after watching this movie – I don’t think Marlo had postpartum psychosis. I don’t think Marlo ever actually thought that Tully was REAL. Everyone who’s freaking out about the hospital not addressing her postpartum psychosis mental health issues are reading what they want to into the movie rather than actually paying attention or trying to understand Marlo’s character.
(of course, yes, that’s often the point of movies, for the audience to fill in the gaps with their own subconscious and interpret it the way way they want. See my What Is Inception About? post for more. But I don’t think that the gaps were large enough to actually assume psychosis in this movie.)
Instead Tully – which big revel here: we eventually find out is Marlo’s maiden name – is a personality that Marlo pretends to be in the evenings to help her get through the rough postpartum time. Sure, maybe playing a game of pretend with yourself while trying to cope with a difficult time is weird…but I don’t necessarily think that it qualifies as severe mental health issues that require psychiatric help.
- a) When Marlo talks to her husband about the ‘night nanny’, she never uses Tully’s name, which tellingly shows that Marlo didn’t actually think that Tully was a real, separate person from herself.
- b) At the end, when it’s revealed to the audience that Tully isn’t real, no one has to tell this to Marlo. We never have a ‘Marlo discovers she’s gone crazy’ moment. Because Marlo knew the entire time that Tully wasn’t real. Even at the end, when the personification of Tully tells Marlo that it’s time for her to go – she doesn’t have to explain that she’s not real. Marlo knows, and has always known, the truth.
- c) I’ve only seen the movie once, so I bet there’s a lot more clues, but if you listen closely, during the daytime scenes, Marlo takes ownership of “Tully’s” actions. When she goes to her son’s principal and brings her a cupcake – she says “*I* made this”.
- d) The awkward sex scene makes waaay more sense when you realize that its not Marlo telling Tully what her husband likes, but an example that even when Marlo is “role-playing” a different persona, that Marlo herself is the still the one in control.
So all in all, I personally don’t think that Marlo is psychotic. I think that Marlo, knowing that the postpartum time is difficult for her, realized that she needed to come up with a coping mechanism in order to survive it – and the coping mechanism she came up with it was to imagine how a younger version of herself would view and deal with her current life.
5) How Our Perspective Affects Our Reality
Once you realize that Tully isn’t real, and is just a personification of a younger Marlo – you realize (just as this interview points out) that this movie could just as easily be about a younger Marlo going into the future and getting a glimpse at who she’s going to be.
And coming at it from that perspective makes you think about the entire movie differently.
I don’t know if you caught this, but before Tully arrived, Marlo hardly acknowledged her baby. She never spoke the baby’s name. She just went through the new baby actions. Feed, burp, diaper change, pump, wake up, lay down to sleep.
But when Tully arrives, we learn the baby’s name, Mia. (Acknowledging someone’s name is gives them validity. Remember how Marlo never told anyone Tully’s name?) In that very first scene with Tully, Marlo is reminded that her baby is an actual person – not just a thing she has to care for. As the movie goes on, we see Marlo open herself up to her baby. She begins to gaze at baby with loving eyes, wear baby in a sling, and especially that last night out at the bar – talk about how much she really loves her baby and misses her.
When Marlo forces herself to change her perspective to see her baby – and her life – in a new light, she’s finally able to open herself up to appreciating what she has.
I talked about this some in my “Do I Regret Having Kids?” post, but it’s not that weird to think back on our previous younger self and wonder what it’d be like to go back to that life. What our previous self would think of our current self? What would it be like if you could channel the younger you into your current you?
This is what the character of Tully is all about.
For myself, I think about if I could go back in time when KP and I were struggling to get pregnant and I wondered if we’d ever be lucky enough to have kids. What if I could bring that old Ronni into my current Ronni life now, to show her that it would all be ok one day? That I’d eventually have three wonderful kids, and that I’d get to know that incredible love of a family.
Would that change my current perspective of being overwhelmed in my motherhood duties? Maybe even change it for the better? In a the ‘grass is always greener’ kind of way?
Of course it would.
When Marlo was struggling to let in other people into her life in order to get the physical help she needed, she turned inward to herself – specifically to the memories of her younger self – in order to mentally push through.
And once Marlo was past the toughest postpartum time, once her baby was sleeping through the night more, once she had bonded with her baby, once she had almost come to terms with the fact that she would never again be her younger self again (and that maybe that was a good thing), Marlo knew that the last thing she needed to do was relinquish any expectations her younger self still held on her current self.
And as a last hurrah, Marlo took herself out on the town to both relive and say goodbye to the memories her free-er, young-er, less-stable, previous life.
You know how at the bar that night, Marlo and Tully talk about how if you replace one board of a boat one at a time until there are not remaining original boards – is the boat still the same boat? And then Tully reminds Marlo that there’s one part our bodies, one of our hearing cells, that cannot replicate itself and change. And Marlo states that that means that we’ll always be the same person then no matter how much we may change otherwise.
Guys – this is one of the main cruxes of the film! How did people miss this??
This whole movie is Marlo coming to terms with the loss of her youth…only to come to the realization that no matter how much life has changed her, she’s still a little bit the same person.
It’s not about psychosis.
It’s about gaining perspective.
So you know how I write a lot about marriage in this blog, right? And you know it seems like people are always bemoaning how we need good examples of committed marriages in the media, especially of marriages that stick it out through tough times?
This movie is an AWESOME example of the commitment of marriage.
I know, I know. No one talks about the marriage part of Tully because they are too caught up in the whole “it’s irresponsible to mental health issues!” to see anything else. But really, guys, as someone who blogs about and cares about marriage, let me just take a moment to appreciate this movie for what it says about marriage:
Look, Marlo and her husband have communication issues. They’ve been married a long time, and life has gotten predictable, and they don’t really know each other’s needs, and they just kind of go through the motions. Her husband seems emotionally withdrawn – though not uncaring – and plays a lot of video games. He doesn’t pick up on Marlo’s need for companionship, or her physical needs as the caregiver of his children. He didn’t even realize that his wife was pretending a night nanny came in each night as an excuse to push herself too hard. He worked a lot, and wasn’t very involved.
BUT. We also see him helping with the kid’s homework, asking if she’s alright, making it home in time for dinner most nights, having conversations with her about the kids. He seems like a guy who loves his wife, but doesn’t know what she needs. He’s busy with work and is trying to provide, and his wife doesn’t indicate that she needs anything more from him, so he kind of just does his own thing. Yes, he zones out to video games each night, and could be more present in the family/marriage – but he’s not a bad guy.
I write about this some in my “When Marriage Is Hard” post, but just because you are currently unhappy and unfulfilled in your marriage, it doesn’t mean that it’s better for you to give up on your marriage.
Tully is an excellent example of this! Even when the character of Tully questioned Marlo about her marriage, she NEVER encouraged Marlo to give up on her marriage because her husband was dull, or not communicating, or because the passion had gone. There was never any regret over marrying the “wrong” guy and that maybe Marlo should re-invent herself, dump her husband, and find a “better” one (which unfortunately is common advice given out nowadays).
Instead of this being a movie about a marriage falling apart, or spouses giving up on each other because they’d changed into new people – this movie ended with a marriage MORE committed to each other, being honest with each other, and accepting the other person for who they were, emotional scars and all. How beautiful is that!
If you’re a fan of marriage and wish that ‘Hollywood’ would make more marriage-affirming movies – here you go. Please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater on this one because of what you think this movie is or isn’t about. Go see it.
7) Advocating for Self-Care Without Having To Label Yourself.
You probably picked this up from the trailers, but overall, this movie is about self-care. Both taking care of yourself and asking for the help you need.
Self-care is not as simple as someone telling you “You have X, so now do Y to solve it”.
I mean, sure, maybe you’d like for it to be this simple. But it never is. Life isn’t simple.
If you need help with something, you have to ask for help.
But before you can ask for help, you have to know what you need.
And before you can know what you need, you have to know yourself.
Marlo needed both physical and mental support in order to get through those really hard newborn days. She found a way to get the mental support she needed with a unique change in her perspective via Tully…but unfortunately it came at the detriment of her physical needs.
Try as she might, she couldn’t do it alone.
At the end of the movie there’s a scene with Marlo and her son which, if you’re paying attention, pretty much sums up the entire self-care aspect of this movie. Her 5 yr old son asks about the body brushing routine they do that’s supposed to help his emotional sensitivities, and asks if they have to do it this time. Instead of giving her son a pat answer, or telling her son what she thinks he needs – Marlo decides to listen to her son. She asks him what he thinks about the brushing routine.
He thinks for a moment and says “I like sitting next to you”. He continues, explaining that he thinks the brushing is maybe a little bit soothing, but that he still doesn’t want to do it this time. Marlo agrees, and the mother-son pair just sit next to each other for a little bit and it’s a very sweet moment.
The son was able to realize – and vocalize – what he actually needed, which was to spend time close to his mom, rather than just submitting to what someone else decided that someone like him might need.
It’s ok to not always be ok.
It’s ok to experience deep emotions.
It’s ok to question who you are now, who you once were, and who you might become one day.
It’s ok to not have all the answers.
It’s ok to not fit inside an easily ‘diagnose-able’ box.
And it’s ok to realize, and ask for, the help that you actually need – not just the help that other people tell you they think you should have.
Know yourself. Speak up for yourself. Let other people in. Get the support YOU need.
That is the beautiful message of this film. It’s not an easy movie to watch. It’s not a comfortable movie to watch. It may take you days afterward to think about and unpack what it all means before being able to jump to conclusions.
And that’s ok too.