The young woman’s time in Jake’s family house needs to be put in the context of a classic survival quest, like spending some time in Dante’s Inferno. There’s nothing she can do to make the journey shorter or to make it come to a better conclusion, she simply needs to endure it and take in as much detail as she needs to answer the question she’s been posing to herself from the start — should she end things with Jake?
Having already accepted the role as a gerontologist, the young woman now witnesses Jake nursing his mother in old age, force feeding her something that she’s not at all interested in ingesting. Instead of eating, she feels obliged to once again explain what it is that makes Jake special, that diligence that earned him a pin at eight years old. It’s not uncommon for parents to cement their feelings about their children at a very young age. In Jake’s case, he had the serious misfortune of earning a consultation prize that stuck with him for life. So while some parents may overly praise the unique talents of their children, the mother lauds him for doing “as well as he did” with “no special talents or abilities.” Jake is probably used to this train of thought, but I know I’d be very resentful if my parents labeled me a no talent. I grew up to put almost zero stock in the opinions of my parents, but Jake doesn’t seem to have developed the same emotional calluses.
The movie briefly cuts to the janitor throwing out several bags of trash in the blowing snow — diligently at work, as always. We return to the young woman performing an important act of kindness to Jake, pointing out his special devotion to his elderly mom. At this moment, the janitor clearly needs the young woman’s validation for the work he put into that relationship over many years — he needed someone to see his good works, not just label it as diligence. Jake says that he’s glad she said it, it makes him feel better. It’s a tender scene, but it ends in a strange way — the young woman says she will wait downstairs to give them privacy, even though they are already on the ground floor.
To drive home this sense of dislocation, we see the young woman come down the stairs several times in a row talking about her own confusion, not knowing where she ends and Jake begins, declaring herself an emotional pinball. She recognizes here that her,purpose in life — as an anima — is to be seen by Jake and put a stamp of approval on him. She is now questioning whether this is enough and whether she is capable of attaining her own agency.
When she finally reaches the bottom of the stairs, the dad is waiting for her with a nightgown with baby food spilled on it. Protesting again that she has to leave, Jake explains that she is a waitress and they met at her restaurant when he ordered the Santa Fe burger. The Zemeckis scene has now been incorporated into their story, but now we also begin to wonder how far the dementia in the house has spread — beyond the dad perhaps to his son the janitor and now infecting his characters as well.
A younger version of the mother emerges to lay a little more smackdown on her one and only son. While before she minimized him with faint praise, now she’s projecting her own personality quirks onto him. While ordering her to take the nightgown to the basement and put it in the wash, she details just how controlling Jake can be. He does this via “things that make him nervous.” These could be actual traits of his but they are no doubt part of her personality as well and she is literally in the middle of an act of control by both demanding she go to the basement and wash the nightgown and put her wishes ahead of Jake’s.
Jake is freaked out that she enters the basement but seems powerless to stop her now that she’s started. We notice right away the janitor’s work clothing in the washing machine. Then she enters another room of the basement and notices that all of her works of art are there in poster form, prints of paintings by Ralph Albert Blakelock. One of the posters is entitled “Inherent Nature.” Below the paintings we see numerous attempts by Jake to take inspiration from Blakelock’s work, signed Jake. His paintings are notably darker, perhaps alluding to Jake’s dad praise of the young woman/Blakelock use of colors. Another one of the Blakelock posters is entitled “Interiority and Light.” The young woman then quotes Emerson “nothing is more rare in any man than an act of his own.” She agrees and says that we are all mostly other people, and she paraphrases Oscar Wilde. She receives another call from the janitor, then bolts upstairs.
She walks in on a scene of Jake’s mother dying in a hospital bed set up in the living room. Jake declares it a good time to leave. The young woman asks where is his dad. Jake says “he’s puttering around,” at which point a younger version of the dad bursts in and they say goodbye. There is again a strange chemistry between the dad and the young woman. My intuition is that the dad, knowing that this is the female side of Jake, is attracted to her, explaining his homophobic protestations earlier.
Jake is now putting the chains on his car, preparing for the final escape. The girlfriend is busy scraping the windows, trying to remove the ice. Jake gives her their positive feedback as they drive away. The girlfriend never expresses any deeper concerns about Jake based on the visit or anything particularly wrong with the parents. This seems odd, actually. Who goes on a meet the parents journey without sharing some quirks — it’s a time honored bonding opportunity.
The movie goes much deeper into family dynamics in the visitation section than the book did. There are numerous possible interpretations for it all. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters much which one you adopt. The important thing about this section of the movie is that it makes clear to the young woman what purpose she serves within Jake’s story — and it’s a purpose she feels compelled to break away from soon, maybe.