Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Indian Runner

After Janet finally read the blurb on The Ice Storm, and realized that wife-swapping was involved in the plot, she conceded that it was a bad idea. So she pulled out The Indian Runner instead, which turned out to be quite good.

Who would have thought that Viggo Mortensen could play a homocidal charming asshole so well? After seeing the Rings trilogy and Hidalgo, I thought he was an actor comfortably tracked into the heroic, leading-man, good-guy-but-no-saint typecast. Now, I realize all those superlative things I kept hearing about him in the DVD extra-feature interviews is really true: he's a brilliant actor.

(Warning: spoilers follow.)

Kudos to Sean Penn for being able to have a taut, emotion-filled conflict between two brothers without either of them so much as punching each other, much less having a fatal show-down in Old West style. When we saw the opening car chase, ending with protagonist Joe Roberts shooting down a perp on a highway, I felt for sure the movie would be book-ended with him shooting his brother. But instead, Penn takes the high road; he never dilutes the dramatic tension by gratuitous violence, or really any on-screen violence at all. While we hear about a number of violent events -- Franky hits his girl, Franky busts up a bar, Mr. Roberts kills himself -- we never see the actual violence. What we do see, and Penn makes a point to dwell on this, is the after-affects of the violence. Joe doesn't just hear that his father is dead -- he touches the blood and stares at it. We don't see Franky get busted up in the bar . . . but we do see him wake up, stuck to his pillow by his own blood. How wonderfully remarkable, that someone still is sensitive enough to watch the effects of violence, and not be so preoccupied with the cause.

I think the only reason the movie was set in the 1970's was so we could see everyone, both good guys and bad guys, smoking like chimneys. There's an awful lot of screen time devoted to smoking, and it's clearly intended to tie together Franky and Joe, and Maria and Dorothy. The film stays on message: it's not about injustices visited on some and not others, but about the reactions two people can have to their circumstances. What sets Joe and Franky apart is not their circumstances, nor their history, nor even their overall temperament -- its the view that they take of the world, and the meaning (or lack thereof) that they derive from it.

Janet, ever the AP mom, asks herself: "What happened to Franky?" That is, what was it that made him turn out so bad, and could anything have been done about it? I think the movie gives some clues . . . at one point Mr. Roberts says, "Where does he get it?" and I knew, in that moment, that he had gotten it from his father. You don't see it at first, since Mr. Roberts seems calm, philosophic, and sympathetic . . . but later you hear, ever so subtly, the contempt that he has for Joe for working for the same government that kicked him off his land, and his suicide shows his willingness to opt out of life rather than face it. Whether nature or nurture is unclear . . . but, as Carl Sandberg said, "This storm now didn't come out of nowhere . . ."

There's a lot more in the movie to unpack . . . I still don't know what to make of the symbology. Franky is tattooed with swastikas and SS lightning bolts, and a Confederate flag hanging in his boyhood room (which maybe I could just roll with, if this was South Carolina, but it's freakin' Nebraska) . . . and, in stark contrast, Joe is married to a Mexican woman, something his father admits he didn't approve of at first. Maybe there's some kind of message about race relations here, but I'm more tempted to believe that it's just there to maintain the aura of darkness around Franky. And all the "Indian runner" mythology . . . what the heck was that about? I mean, it's all good stuff, but it feels so extraneous to everything else about that story. The only thing that fully redeems it was the Tagore quote at the end: "The birth of every child is a message that God has not yet become discouraged with mankind."

We get the message. Love redeems, even when it can't save.



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