link back to kusp front page your npr member station and picture of the monterey bay
link to the KUSP program guide link to performing arts page link to contact KUSP make a pledge to kusp
listen to our live audio stream link to our program guide link to our performing arts page link to contact kusp make a pledge to kusp
listen to our live audio stream link to our playlists make a comment link to our newsroom link to our arts section
Main | Archive | Bios | Survey | Local Shows | Music | Public Affairs | Staff | Translator Status | Weather 
Search our site  Powered by NetMind
Read past reviews by the Film Gang

Film Review for August 31
The Deep End
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

The Deep End, directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel (who also directed Suture) and starring Tilda Swinton, is now playing at the Nickleodeon in Santa Cruz.  What everyone says about this movie, which is that Swinton gives one of the greatest performances of her career, is true.  She is captivating, portrayed here as a harried and sort of homely mother, Margaret Hall, who conveys well an aura of Anglo-American aristocracy without some of the accompanying respectability—after all, her husband is an admiral who is always away at sea, and she lives with her querulous and failing father-in-law, and … she has three kids, a daughter and two sons.  The movie’s based on a 1947 crime novel called The Blank Wall and Max Ophuls made a film of it in 1949 called The Reckless Moment. This version changes the gender of the child around whom the story revolves—his name is, tellingly, Beau in this film, and it adds homosexuality to the storyline.  

In brief, it’s a story of blackmail:  Beau Hall, Margaret’s 17-year-old son, has been frequenting a gay bar in Reno and gets in a car accident one night while driving drunk with his boyfriend, Darby (played by Josh Lucas).  Margaret tries to intervene by asking Darby to avoid her son and then Darby pays him a visit, they fight, and Darby accidentally falls off the dock of their Lake Tahoe backyard and impales himself on an anchor.  Margaret, discovering the body in the morning, takes it away and deep sixes it further along the lake. This is why everyone is saying the movie’s about a mother’s fierce love of and ambitions for her son:  she will do anything to protect him from the shame and infamy—not to mention possible jail time—he will get if he gets accused.  All this, unbeknownst to Beau himself, who practices the trumpet and gets accepted to Wesleyan University.  Along comes the gorgeous Goran Visnjic, playing Alex Spera, a gambler in need of money.  He and his associate decide to blackmail Margaret to the tune of $50,000 because they have a videotape of Darby and Beau having sex.  

There’s a lot that’s really really well done about this film, although it’s also excruciatingly slow.  But I was disturbed by the way the plot about maternal ferocity was paired up with a plot about homosexuality, particularly because in this movie homosexuality is associated with violence, murder, blackmail, a domineering and possessive mother and an absent father.  The movie tries to foist the negativity off on him—both the son and his mom are really protecting the father from the knowledge of his son’s sexuality—but since part of the plot also involves eliminating all paternal influence, the displacement is unconvincing.  In fact, the only way really to salvage the homophobic representation of male homosexuality here (besides the sheer beauty of the men and the quite un-pornographic video of them having sex) is to see this as a powerful film about deep desire and identification between mother and son. The shocking and closeted secret, then, is not homosexuality, but incest, which doesn’t quite succeed in becoming sanitized, as the film’s final scenes suggest.  

Claude Lévi-Strauss once said that incest signifies a dream or a wish that one might be able to keep one’s family to oneself, to avoid the necessary exogamy of social interaction and exchange.  The Deep End shows us that wish as a maternal fantasy, a disturbing yet compelling response to the impending loss of a treasured son.  Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.

Copyright Carla Freccero 2001