Gawker ran this pic on Saturday, of Katie Holmes carrying her daughter Suri in what appears to be a failed attempt to outrace the paparazzi. I can generally do without the endless flow of tabloid photos clogging up the daily information stream, 99 percent of which are meaningless documents of mediocre lives lived in the brief, empty glare of American celebrity. But this photograph… I just can’t look away. (After the jump, the full photo plus my live-journalesque ramblings about Joey Potter!)
Let’s begin with the visual details: the ray of early evening sunlight carving out the tired sweep of Holmes’ cheekbone; the fragile blue-veined hand clutching fast to Suri, who seems to be slipping from her mother’s grasp; the enormous bunny slippers that make Suri’s tiny bare legs that much more vulnerable; the slightly defensive grip of Suri’s right hand, a somatic expression of bemused uncertainty; that same ray of sunlight (that renders her mother so severe) that is somehow for Suri nothing more than a benign bit of backlighting…
The most arresting thing about this photograph, however, is the contrasting expressions on the faces of the subjects. Holmes looks like she’s staring at a point ten feet below the sidewalk, a deeply inward look in desperate search of a time and place before all of this. She is tired, she is alone—she is not who she thought she was, nor who she thought she’d be. She wears a look of dark epiphany, a gaze just this side of horror that comes to us all when, for a brief moment (for the lucky ones), awareness of the void swims up from the murky depths of the subconscious, shows itself plainly and tells us:
“This is all there is, brief wakefulness in the eternal night of existence.”
Suri, mercifully, is years away from such thoughts (though, being an A-list child, they will come far earlier then they should as she leaves her childhood behind, no doubt, before she even hits double digits). In direct opposition to the expression of desperate powerlessness on her mother, Suri seems to understand the force of her gaze (evoking as it does her preternaturally charismatic father), but is unsure of the best way to enthrall the photographer: Should she break into laughter or tears? Is this good attention or bad attention? Is such a distinction meaningful? She can feel the tension coursing through her mother but she has felt this tension from the time before she was born; she absorbs it but has not yet figured out how to convert it.
I imagine Suri discovering this photograph many years from now—after all the inevitable angst and scandal of a life in the spotlight—and seeing the deep pain in her mother’s face. I imagine her finally understanding how hard it must have all been, how hard it is to love. I imagine this and for a brief moment all I see in this photograph is a vulnerable mother trying to protect her daughter, and for a brief moment, all I wish them is a little happiness.