Reviewed by Carla Freccero
Now playing at the Nickleodeon in Santa
Cruz, In the Bedroom, directed by actor Todd Field and based on a short
story by Andre Dubus, "Killings," has garnered Oscar nominations and won
Golden Globe awards. You can understand why; it's a very serious
movie. It combines picturesque and traditional small-town life (it takes
place in Camden, Maine) with extraordinary violence and, finally, leans
hard on the acting talent of its characters, who are, in this case, eminently
worthy of the challenge. Most of the intensity comes, not from what
actually happens, but from what goes on emotionally between, among, and
within the main characters. And right from the very beginning, in brief
and carefully chosen scenes, the film makes us understand the currents
that run between these people, and the ways that class, sex, and character,
in particular, shape their responses to events.
The small town setting of the film makes the rage and grief that is its subject seem to suffocate the couple. There is no escape: everyone knows what happened, the main players in the drama are still there, frequenting the grocery store and the docks-- and no one seems to want to talk very much about it. In this claustrophobic environment, husband and wife evolve separate inner worlds that spill out and crash against each other in the riveting dramatic center of the story. Nearly all of what makes this very long movie absorbing and intense is carried by Spacek and Wilkinson who, both individually and together, create rich and believable studies in emotional devastation.
One friend of mine remarked that this is a movie that criticizes good people; it understands, in other words, that good people can feel and do monstrous things, and it knows how to study those flaws with compassion and sympathy. For that alone, the movie's worth seeing, since so few films trust us to understand the real complexity of concepts like good and evil. This one does.
In the Bedroom also tells a submerged story
about a kind of capitalist competition in the fishing industry between
the mass production of Strout's (there are factory scenes of the stages
of fish processing and canning) and the old-fashioned, non-industrial,
small-scale lobster harvesting of the Fowlers. Instead of big bad
business replacing small, the inverse seems to occur, and lobster trumps
canned fish. But of course lobster is also a luxury item, just as those
who run the lobster business in this movie are, unlike the Strouts, distinctly
upper-middle class. I like to think of it as an allegory about the contradictions
of independent filmmaking: on the one hand, so-called independent films
benefit from the idea that they achieve a kind of artistic purity unsullied
by crass commercialism. On the other, as a full-page ad in the New York
Times recently pointed out, In the Bedroom is also a full-length feature
film commercial for Marlboro cigarettes. Looking for trouble
at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.
Copyright Carla Freccero 2002