3. In the Bedroom: Bang
Yes. With a one word description I have made a film called ‘In the Bedroom’ sound even more like a porno than it did before.
G’night folks! And if you’re driving tonight don’t forget your car!
It might seem strange putting a film like this so close to the top of the list. After all, across this magical couple of weeks I have discussed the likes of drug abuse, graphic close ups of teeth being pulled, real life tragedy, Nazi’s, knowledge of certain death and doom, more Nazi’s…But sometimes certain films get under your skin and stay there and with that we come to In The Bedroom.
Set in a small fishing community, the film begins with the character of Frank dating Natalie, a single Mother with two young sons. Frank is only 20 so his Parents have feelings about him considering throwing the next step in his career away to stay in Maine to be with Natalie. The main feeling haver is Ruth Fowler, his Mother, who disproves of his relationship altogether.
I love the subtle way this is shown in a scene where Natalie asks Ruth if she can do anything to help as the hostess prepares a meal and Ruth asks her if she could help by passing a bowl. That is sitting right next to her. That level of passive aggression, like she is insinuating that this is the only sort of thing Natalie could handle, rings very true and is one of a million reasons why this film feels so grounded in reality.
So many films get this wrong and have characters be obviously bad-mannered while other people in the scene act oblivious. If in real life someone was all ‘Isn’t that right Nancy?’ It’s Natalie’ ‘Whatever’ You’d be aware that person was being hella rude. Have you ever heard anyone say ‘whatever’ about someone’s name outside of a film?
But how many people do you know who throw out little cutting remarks dressed up in pleasantries, and you KNOW it was a dig but you know if you repeated it to anyone they in all probability wouldn’t hear the problem?
‘Get this: Bitch asked me to pass her a bowl!…It sucked…cause…I hate passing bowls…Shut up it was hurtful ok?’
Frank’s Father Matt is a bit more understanding of the couple but still has his reservations about Frank giving up on his education. He tells Ruth they have to let the relationship run its course and not interfere.
I like films that explore the theme of family, the complexity of these intimate connections and the roles they play throughout our lives. The major downside to such films is they have to walk a very difficult tightrope and not turn into a play. Theatrical timing and long speeches about nature vs nurture and the like rarely does well when depicted on the screen without respite. I watched the movie Carnage a couple of years back and was shocked by the way the 4 characters just kept returning to the same location with very little justification other than clearly this is how it was done on the stage. The pacing and the dialogue was that of a play making the whole thing seem very unnatural and it took me out of the viewing and made me hyper aware I was watching some stagey shit.
In the Bedroom, not based off a play but a short story, manages to avoid that particular lobster trap by showing more than telling, allowing the tension between the characters to build naturally and casting the right people to portray the more heightened emotions with just a look.
Oh man, is the casting sublime in this film. Out of the 4 leads, 3 of them got nominated for oscars and it is easy to see why. Marisa Tomei as Natalie is a fantastic two fingers up at the people who acted all outraged when she won an Oscar for her awesome work on ‘My Cousin Vinny.’ Also, off topic I know, If one of her fellow nominees did a more enjoyable scene than the bit in that movie where she talks about the deer hunting, then I will personally go to Tomei’s house and take the Oscar back myself, but I doubt it.
Then there is Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek who are so fucking good in this film that it is a reason all by itself to watch it. If the rest of the film was just clowns juggling dead mice while whistling ‘I know a song that will get on your nerves,’ In the Bedroom would still work as long as those two were right there nailing every moment-Watching them play off each other is like listening to a sublime, otherworldly violinist-the emotions are right there in the work: Beautiful, delicate and exhausting.
The buzz about their performances was the reason I bought the film. The critics raved and even though the film won none of the 5 Oscars it was nominated for people obviously went to see it as it made a huge profit and I believe is still one of the highest grossing films from Sundance and is the highest grossing film to not crack the top 10 in any given week. An odd honour, certainly but still amazing when you think about it. I can only assume people thought it would have a lot of sex in it.
I swear that’s not why I bought it. I was promised some nice acting and a gripping story. Super. That’s was all I needed to know. Nothing could have prepared me for how I felt next…Actually that’s hyperbole. I expect if someone had said: ‘You are going to find this emotional as fuck’ I would have accepted that as adequate preparation. Nevertheless if you don’t want to know a key plot point that sets in motion many of the major moments in the film, look away now:
So one person in this story I have not mentioned yet is Natalie’s Ex Husband Richard who is not happy about the Mother of his kids dating Frank either. Maybe he and Ruth could be friends…Anyways, it is clear he is and was abusive to Natalie. Frank tries to be reasonable with him and it doesn’t go well.
There is only so many ways I can say that the film feels real and is believable. But my God, this scene…The moment where Natalie and Frank believe Richard has gone only for him to return banging on the door was like torture to my senses: I knew this was bad. And so do they. Frank tells Natalie to keep the kids upstairs while he talks to Richard who comes in without an invitation or anything. We leave the guys downstairs and the director (the marvellous Todd Field) follows a deeply shaken Natalie who tries to insist that her kids read a story even as the shouting below grows louder…
Natalie heads downstairs and we hear a gun shot. She jumps. I jump. She screams. Oh dear. Frank has been shot…Then the camera does something unexpected…
You know I’m struggling to type it. The moment was so unpleasant, so shocking to me, that I had to pause (on a different frame obviously) and leave the room and shake it off. I must have walked around my purple flat 4 times before I could go back and finish the film, my breath all dodgy from the shock.
The camera zooms in on what Natalie is looking at and we are treated to a close up of Frank’s face. After it’s had a bullet in it. It’s made worse by the fact that the camera refuses to dwell on it. It moves away quickly, making you wonder if you imagined it was as horrible as all that. Did I really see an eyeball blown from his socket? For a long time I wasn’t sure. I was so unsettled by it I didn’t watch it again until just now. It wasn’t quite as bad as I remembered but it still upsets me.
And then there is the way Richard just slowly walks away and sits down quietly at the table, possibly processing the action he has taken to correct what he views as a humiliation, an injustice. I have just realised how this comes back later in the film. God this film is actually quite good.
The next scene starts with Matt (who is a Doctor) looking at an X Ray of someone’s head and for a pathetic second you might think Frank somehow survived and just has to wear an eye patch like an old timey pirate…Only of course that isn’t the case.
Now we have the grieving portion of the film that demonstrates so successfully why a loss like this can be so catastrophic for a family-Ruth and Matt don’t know how to be, don’t know how to talk and there are so many great moments…In a moment of quiet after Franks’ funeral Matt (or should I say Wilkinson) does one of my favourite movie cries, Ruth slaps Natalie in what was, according to Spacek, real contact with Tomei’s face, and the couple finally let it all out in what is one of the most intense and brutal fights I have ever seen, with the kind of dialogue that could only be spoken between a married couple who know each other so well. It is relentless and truly wonderful acting.
Richard is charged with manslaughter only, as his lawyer claims he acted in self defence and Natalie’s nervous testimony fails to convince. Ruth sees him while shopping and later reports to Matt that he sneered at her. I have read a few interpretations of this where people have decided that Ruth is manipulating Matt into action via lies but I always feel that Ruth sees what she expects to see from the man who took her son from her. The fact that Richard looks ashamed to see Ruth and doesn’t acknowledged her at all, may well have been lost on her in the anguish of the moment. But that is another reason why In the Bedroom works-The audience can make their own mind up about the characters.
I am not sure how I feel about where all this leads. The film doesn’t offer much by way of closure and you are left with the feeling that while Ruth and Matt may be able to save their marriage they might never be able to find peace in a world without their son.
In a devastating piece of work, exploring grief through the eyes of middle aged parents, I can honestly say Frank’s fate resonated with me deeper still. There are those out there who use violence and pain to control people with the same casualness that I use a knife and fork to eat a steak. I can’t understand them and they frighten me. People who survive domestic abuse of any kind never come out unscathed and it is often when the relationship is over that the nightmare begins. In the harrowing moment where the camera lingers on the mutilated face of a 20 year old who a minute ago was walking around trying to be brave, I was reminded of all that can be lost when you try and stand up for yourself and for those you love. It’s not always worth it. But you often don’t know that till after it is too late.
This is not the place for any deep final thoughts on why this leaves me feeling so vulnerable and afraid. My personal experiences have come out to play more than once in this set of posts and will again before it is over. But not here. Some things are not for the eyes of others. Some things have to stay behind closed doors because they can’t really be processed in front of an eager crowd. But they happen. That person you know? You know the one? Yeah that person…wearing a mask. Each and every time you see them. Underneath, their face might not even be whole and you would never guess it.
It’s just a film. But for a long time I couldn’t get the image of Frank’s broken body out of my heart.
Tomorrow Morning…A man has a heart to heart chat with his son #2