In the Bedroom
Todd Field, USA, 2001
At its core, In the Bedroom is about the price men are willing to pay
to please and be with the women they love. Directed by Todd Field and based on a
short story by the late Andre Dubus, the film doesn't address this theme
overtly, but rather through the actions and (more importantly) reactions of the
characters involved, which bind it to a logical structure that otherwise might
have fallen apart given the events that take place during the movie's alarming climax.
Set during summertime in the picturesque fishing town of Camden, Maine, In the
Bedroom examines the lives of Matt Fowler (brilliantly handled by veteran actor
Tom Wilkinson) and his choral director wife, Ruth (a great Sissy Spacek). Both
are concerned about the increasingly serious relationship between their
college-aged son Frank (Nick Stahl) and Natalie (beautifully handled by Marisa
Tomei), a woman ten years his senior. Compounding matters are Natalie's two
young boys and the unwanted presence of her estranged husband, Richard (an
appropriately menacing William Mapother).
When Frank informs his father that, rather than head off to graduate school
to become an architect, he might simply take up lobster trawling for a living in
order to remain close to Natalie and her boys, the expected family crisis
ensues. Ruth can't abide the thought of her only child throwing away his future
on a woman who isn't even divorced from her first husband, while Matt remains
stubbornly convinced that Frank will eventually do the right thing and head off
Sadly, tragedy intervenes in the form of the bitterly jealous Richard, whose
fateful confrontation with Frank triggers a devastating string of events that
forever changes the lives of all involved. The cracks in Matt and Ruth's
marriage takes center stage as the seemingly well-adjusted couple is forced to
deal with the grief over what's happened and the lack of communication that has
steadily eroded the bedrock of their marriage over the years.
The ultimate action the couple takes to, literally, save their marriage, if
not their very sanity, proves the film's riskiest move. But it works simply
because of the deeper issue of a husband's loyalty to his wife and the strength
the two draw from one another to live through a terrible situation.
In the Bedroom bravely addresses the impossibility of finding true
justice when the hurt is so deep, and the loss so great, that no amount of
judicial punishment can fill the void.
Antonio Calvache's photography compares to painter Andrew Wyeth's haunting
canvas "Christina's World," and the film pays its debt to Wyeth and the
idyllic yet strangely tragic images he produced throughout the film. The score
is appropriately understated, never getting in the way of the dramatic interplay
between the characters. The acting is simply peerless.
On the downside, Field allows the film to drag a bit during the middle third,
and poker playing scenes that have one of Matt's friends reciting poems by Blake
and Frost come across as a little too obviously connected to the plot at hand.
In the Bedroom is a tough, honest movie, one that might have shined
even brighter had it not relied on shocking surprises, instead simply laying its
cards on the table from the outset and working backwards to show how its
characters reached their current situation. As it is, the film is still head and
shoulders above the average fare, revealing an undeniably potent intensity that
lingers long after the lights have gone up in the theater.
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