I first saw this film when it came out in video. I've lost count of how many times I've watched it since. It's the perfect blend of beautiful characters, beautiful scenery, and beautiful music.
It isn't actors portraying grumpy or cute or otherwise stereotypical older women. The situation is staged (8 women—7 older and one younger—are stranded when their bus breaks down), but their stories and and personalities are their own and are as varied as any you'd find in any group of any age. All of the women have endearing moments. Some more than others.
My favorite is Cissy Meddings. There she sits in the photo, leaning on the rock. There are a couple of shots in the movie of Cissy alone, looking off, paying attention to her surroundings. She gathers water from the lake and then stands to watch the birds swooping and skimming just above the water's surface. During a downpour she stands on the porch, looking out over the field. Her arm raises slightly and you wonder what may have moved through her thoughts at that moment. What was she following or gesturing toward?
The current cover photo shows Cissy holding on to Winnie's arm as they walk. I prefer to think of the opening shot in the film. Cissy leads the group. She walks independently and with purpose out of the fog. Despite challenges and losses she's experienced, there is such an uncomplicated joy about her and a resolve not to dwell on hardships, but to move forward and make the best of things. She is not helpless. When she speaks of recovering from a stroke she recalls lying in bed, counting window panes, and then suddenly deciding, "This won't do. I've got to get up." And she did.
This passage from In the Company of Strangers, written by fellow cast member, Mary Meigs, brought tears to my eyes. (Who am I kidding? I cried.):
At the wrap party that celebrated the end of filming, we were mesmerized by the vision of Cissy, dancing alone like a honeybee dancing directions, in the din and glare of flashing lights. She was wearing pink sneakers, white socks, a white cotton dress and a pink cardigan. The other dancers had left plenty of space around the circle where she shuffled her feet and spun slowly around in time to the beat. Her face, turned up, wore an expression of heavenly bliss. She held out her arms, elbows bent, fists clenched, moving to the beat, her pink sneakers shuffled and turned. She would be there till morning, it seemed, dancing her joy, while the others, a third her age, staggered exhausted off the dance floor.I want to be a Cissy when I grow older, dancing my joy.