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The Door in the Floor and
Home at the End of the World

(2 films)
Reviewed by Carla Freccero
Broadcast 8/17/04 and 8/18/04

The Door in the Floor, directed by Tod Williams, and A Home at the End of the World, directed by Michael Mayer, tell a complex psychological story about the unusual relationship among three people. Both are films based on books, The Door in the Floor on a novel by John Irving called A Widow for One Year and A Home at the End of the World on a novel by Michael Cunningham, who also wrote The Hours. Both films are about kinds of alternative family, their dysfunction and their rich and loving motivations.

The Door in the Floor has Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger in leading roles, with Jon Foster as the third element introduced into their dying ménage. The Coles, Ted and Marion, are on the rocks after the untimely deaths of their two sons. Ted is an author of children's books, while Marion, who doesn't seem to have a profession, is slowly drifting in a depression that seems to have no end in sight. Ted hires a high school student from Exeter who wants to be a writer to be his apprentice (to drive for him because he lost his license, actually) and to give his wife some company. The boy, Eddie, resembles one of the dead sons. Predictably, but also exquisitely, the boy develops a heartrending, comic, and exquisitely youthful crush on Marion.

The affair is anything but comic, including some of the steamiest sex scenes I've had the pleasure to watch in a while. The story Ted is working on, The Door in the Floor, both tells the story of Marion's anguish and is itself a fabulous allegory for a boy's Oedipal dilemma. The child protagonist who lives alone and fulfilled with his mother faces the awful and yet completely compelling forbidden space represented by that door in the floor. Jeff Bridges' acting in this film is magnificent. The story is absorbing, beautifully timed, intense, and tough on the psyche and our emotions, while the movie is thoroughly satisfying, with plenty of depth and enough substance to mull over hours later.

A Home at the End of the World is a story that takes one by disappointing surprise. Colin Farrell (as Bobby), Dallas Roberts (as Jonathan) and Robin Wright Penn (as Clare) form the heart of the story, with the ever consummate Sissy Spacek claiming serious attention as Jonathan Glover's biological mother who later also becomes Bobby's adoptive mom. Bobby starts out at the center, a kind of free spirit visited by family tragedy who is drawn to and courts Jonathan, later going to live with him when Bobby has no one left. There's a delightful scene where the young Bobby persuades Alice (Spacek) to smoke pot, and an equally compelling scene where Mom catches the boys in compromised circumstances. Time passes abruptly, and when next the two men meet, it is in New York City, Jonathan is gay and living with Clare. Bobby comes to stay and once again seems to bring both magic and emotional disaster into the lives he touches. An innocent in every sense, he gets initiated by Clare and he and Jonathan begin the long process of not resolving the intense emotional connection they had as boys. Clare and Bobby get together (even though both of them also passionately love Jonathan). On the occasion of Jonathan's father's death, Clare announces her pregnancy and the three of them buy a house, move in, and start to raise the new family. It all goes downhill from there, grinding towards a schmaltzy and predictable ending.

Sadly, but maybe inevitably, this movie, which addresses the possibility of alternative parenting (two men and a woman), ends up trying to corral the whole picture back into nuclear boredom (in this story having kids kills your sex life), with a tragedy thrown in. So, all in all, the spicy intergenerational sex and dysfunctional nuclear family story turns out to be the one that really takes the risks, and it ends only sort of badly; while the gay one needs to enforce normalcy and just can't seem to allow itself a queer happy ending. Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.