08 March 2010
This is a film I've been promising myself I'd watch for about four or five years now. But before I got around to it, the Criterion version came out, so I put it off until I could get a copy. And then the Criterion Blu-Ray came out, so I put it off some more. Now I've finally seen it.
It's just like everybody said. A rich tapestry of a film, a layered story with a lot to absorb, and I'm still letting it sink in. It's such a complex narrative about family, family roles, expectations, guilt, and (it wouldn't be Sam Shepard without) being haunted by the sins of one's past transgressions. They say it's about America. I can see that. About being rootless. I can see that too.
I think it's about fear, and facing one's demons, and it's a decidedly brooding, unmelodramatic (though maybe sentimental, in a not-so-bad way) approach to facing one's demons. That is to say, it's soft-spoken and uncathartic. I think it's about the roles we play in each other's lives, especially in a family. Hunter's got two dads, a mom and a half, but rather than fighting over him they're all willing to give him up -- out of love, because they all have a different idea of what'd be best for him. In the end, he's with his quasi-stripper mother, and you are left wondering if this is for the best. But bear in mind the moral turnaround the last reel of the film gives you with Travis (what a great name for a character, by the way... really genius), learning that our sad, broken hero is in fact such a monstrous abuser his story sounds absurd, unreal, made up -- considering the man Travis is, maybe Jane's not so bad after all. The irony here is that it seems clear that Hunter should have stayed with Walt and Anne in their rich suburban L.A. house, their public school system and their stable, decent lifestyle. But the bonds of family... well, that's got a gravity all its own.