Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Savages

Continuing with Movie Madness week, I saw "The Savages" last night. Sheesh. I'm still kind of processing it. It's one of those movies that kind of stuns you into a depressed, terrified silence. It's funny, yes, there are definitely some funny parts. (One of Laura Linney's lines towards the end in particular.) I walked out and said two things: "I kind of want to kill myself now," and "I feel like calling my parents and telling them I love them." That's because, obviously, the film is about two siblings whose once-abusive and absentee father is diagnosed with dementia. They scoop him up from Sun City, Arizona (which is pretty much identical to the opening sequence of "Weeds" only with old people) and take him back to Buffalo, NY, where John (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a professor (he teaches "theatre of social unrest" to quote Wendy, Linney's character). It's a movie about aging, and having to grow up, and guilt and responsibility, and a lot of things, but it seems kind of reductive to put it that way. I found myself relating to Wendy more than perhaps I should (she pops Xanax, steals a dead woman's Percocet, has a lukewarm affair with a married man, and is generally anxious and obsessive and desperate to impose some kind of control over a situation that is beyond her reach). She's an aspiring playwright working as a temp in New York, and I suddenly had flashes of myself in an administrative job in twenty-five years. The movie ends up being a bit more about her than her brother, whose prosaic attitude (and, I suspect, not a little bit of repression and academic detachment) carries him through the crisis with more aplomb. But the nitty gritty of their own career and love crises was second fiddle to the central issue, obviously. It was hard to watch them put their dad in a nursing home, to see him in the hospital, this man who you understand from their comments was once basically an asshole, diminished and frail now, confused, obediently (for the most part) allowing aides to undress him and put him in bed and lead him in stretching exercises. It was scary. It was a little too realistic, by which I mean it made you think about things you don't want to think about. I won't belabor the point, but I think part of what made it hard to watch was imagining my parents and grandparents having to do this for their parents or for each other. It felt like this heavy, generational pull and weight. As Justin put it, what made it so depressing was that this is a very real possible future for any of us.

It was a good movie, actually a great movie. The acting, as you'd expect, is excellent. I have a beef with about the last 15 seconds of the movie, plotwise, but that's about it. But this blog post feels very stiff, not my usual style, and I think part of it is just that this is a really difficult subject to talk about, for me and in general. In that light it's amazing what the writer-director has managed to do with this movie... to make it bearable, even almost light-hearted at times, utterly humanized, provocative in its plainness and sadness and realism, and to do so without gloss or polish.

Yep, you can say that Oscar season movies are treating me well right now. (Tonight, I'm seeing "I'm Not There," after which point I think the movie rush will slow down a bit.)


Kim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim said...

I am so impressed with your movie-going schedule of late!

I really want to see this movie too, although I am bothered by the title, which is something Mindy Kaling actually pointed out: "My one complaint is that I wish the name of the movie wasn’t “The Savages”., The unnecessary play on the last name of the main characters adds nothing, and in fact gives you the wrong idea about this movie (are they savage to their father? Do they eat the flesh of other humans?)." (via

I digress. I really do want to see this movie; I love Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and I studied this "theatre of social unrest" in college, and as you said, it all seems very relatable in a scary way.

I guess we'll see what I think after I see it, but it's looking like a Great Movie.

(comment reposted because the first one was full of copy-paste typos)