Ellen DeGeneres serves as a guiding figure throughout Lily’s life and her relationship with Atlas, which demonstrates Lily’s creative means of adaptability. By addressing her teenage diary to Ellen, Lily engages in an innovative coping mechanism, making her journal a space where she can imagine the caring advice of a wise figure. This strategy helps make up for the fact that Lily’s parents are largely absent, embroiled in their own dramas, insensitive to her needs and struggles. As the voice of Dory in Finding Nemo, Ellen speaks the words that become a motivating mantra throughout Atlas and Lily’s relationship: “Just keep swimming.” Through homelessness, abuse, and heartache, the mantra serves as a guiding principle for Atlas and Lily. When they find each other in adulthood, Atlas asks Ellen to dedicate the mantra to Lily when Ellen signs her memoir. The inscription serves as a call for Lily to move through the pain of her relationship with Ryle and towards something new. When Lily gives her daughter the middle name Dory, she emphasizes how instrumental both Atlas and Ellen have been in the formation her ability to create a life free from violence and filled with love.
Flowers and Gardening
The motif of flowers and gardening emphasizes how important it is for Lily to grow something new in the soil of her difficult upbringing. As a teenager, Lily spends much of her time in her garden; it serves as an oasis for her and a place where she can escape the constant fighting of her parents. In the garden with Atlas, the two discuss the power of plants to both thrive when they’re taken care of by others and to grow out of their own strength. They both take this lesson to heart. Lily dreams of growing a new reality for herself when she’s older, one that isn’t defined by the violence of her youth. It takes both the support of others and her own internal strength to make this dream a reality. As an adult, Lily uses her inheritance from her abusive father to buy the storefront that becomes her successful flower shop. In doing so, she grows beautiful flowers from the rocky soil of her childhood.
The motif of naked truths illustrates how complex the very concept of truth is in an abusive relationship. From the first time they meet, Lily and Ryle start telling each other naked truths about themselves. However, these truths also hold things both Lily and Ryle can’t admit to themselves, which complicates the definition of what is true for each of them. For example, Ryle tells the naked truth of losing a patient; however, he can’t yet fully understand how his own parallel trauma impacts his ability to love without violence. Lily talks about Atlas as a way to establish intimacy with Ryle, but she can’t yet fully admit to herself that she’s still in love with Atlas on some level. The naked truths also speed up the intimacy between the two, and once they start dating, Ryle feels entitled to the naked truths about Lily’s past. Their accelerated intimacy and Ryle’s sense of grievance over the “naked truths” of Lily’s love life before him are part of the abusive nature of their relationship. In the same way that Ryle isn’t entitled to transgress Lily’s boundaries or harm her physically in the name of love, he isn’t entitled to violate her privacy, read her journal, or go through her phone in order to steal her naked truths. Though sharing naked truths serves as a bonding ritual for Lily and Ryle, naked truths also become a part of the couple’s abusive cycle.