Friday, June 17, 2011

Sadness In the Bedroom

I watched this film the other day -
very artfully handled, but so realistically depicted,
a small-town story of violence and morality.
I watched it at the suggestion of a friend
who happens to be Catholic
and loves the writings of Andre Dubus
on whose short story ("Killings") this film is based.

It's a serious, sad, unsettling film -
the kind that critics love.

But let's just get it over with up front:
The movie's fucking sad.

And the use of an expletive there is intentional.
One thing I've learned recently from listening to hip-hop, watching movies that tell sad tales, and hanging in neighborhoods like Harlem, south Chicago, or the south Bronx -
One thing I've learned is
Sometimes situations are so painful or injustices so deeply frustrating
The outrage you wanna express, it can't be expressed with non-transgressive, tame, traditional words like "alack," "really," "very," or "bummer."
I suppose those words might work if you used them ironically, and so in a way stretched the pain out over a thinly veiled intellectual joke, but then other times,
You have to just let the anger out:

For instance, if you've just watched or heard a story
About a boy in his late teens living in a fishing town up in Maine and dating this married woman who has two kids
And then the boy is killed, shot by the estranged, jealous husband, and the authorities of the town aren't do much about it because there isn't enough evidence to make much of a case,
And the grieving parents - one a doctor who's throwing himself into his work because his emotions are all confused and the other a housewife feeling neglected (by her grieving husband) and later a little bit guilt-ridden because she fears she's been too controlling when raising her son - their frustration builds until ... by some tragic sense of fate, the husband takes matters into his own hands and murders the murderer, in the woods at night out of cold, sweet revenge
And the movie ends without any real retribution, reconciliation, or healing (though we do see the father's cut finger has scabbed over)
And in the air is a strangely disturbing sense of vigilante justice
You could say, "Aw, that's too bad. I'm really sorry that happened," which to me might sorta perhaps trivialize the situation and make it seem like it just isn't that big a deal, as if it were something harmless and made-up or something.
You could say, "Fuck! That hurts. That really hurts. Parents losing their almost-an-adult child! A woman losing a lover, and then her husband - in cold-blooded murder! And a legal justice system that's dysfunctional. I think I'm gonna be sick," which to some might be considered something of an exaggeration, but I don't know. It's how I feel.
And if I expressed it any other way, I think something inside me would just wither up and another part of me would be ashamed and a third part would feel inauthentic. So that's how it is.

Knowing this, you can understand why I feel there's a definite place for the "romantic comedy" in the life of an ethicist. Because if anybody watched only films like In the Bedroom (2001) all the time, they'd end up uber-depressed, semi-suicidal, and sad. But watch a film like The Philadelphia Story (1940) or the uncanny, Hugh-Grant-surprise About a Boy (2002) or Pixar's splendiferous 'new classic' Wall-E (2008), and you're cheered up before you know it and hopeful once again. at least a little bit.
Alternatively, you could go out in the woods for a hike by a river with your best friend, talk about life, and laugh a little, and that could make you happy too.

But let's face it, you can't always do those things,
and you can't always sound polite,
and you can't forever avoid feeling sad.

Sad stories need to be told,
So thank goodness for writer Andre Dubus and for directors like Todd Field and movies like In the Bedroom
that make you curse, cry, and generally feel awful about the sometime state of humankind.


  1. More a comment about the use of expletives: You might be interested in a book called "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao." We read it in one of my English classes (paired/compared with Huckleberry Finn) and discussed racial issues and the use of slang and expletives. Another sad book, so be sure to book-end it with happy books/stories!

  2. @CaitO
    Looked "Oscar Wao" up on Amazon, and it sounded fantastic, so I bought it right up, and am looking forward to reading it later this summer.
    I'll let you know what I think.
    Thanks for the suggestion!