Sunday, December 26, 2010

Andrew Jarecki's "All Good Things" (2010)

It could have been a superb movie but it was merely good. Inspired by the story of Robert Durst, the scion of a New York real estate dynasty, "All Good Things" was about the mystery of childhood trauma. At seven David Marks saw his mother throw herself off the roof of their house and kill herself. The film revealed later that his father did not carry him away from the scene because he wanted to use David to dissuade his wife from jumping. So, added to the horror of seeing one's mother braining herself at one's feet, was the knowledge that one was useless in preventing it. The literal life-and-death struggle between a couple broke a child in its middle. Ryan Gosling was compelling as that broken child in the adult.

Or was the child broken to begin with? According to Sanford, the patriarch (Frank Langella), David had always been "weak," in contrast with his younger brother who took over the family business. Sanford's dismissal could, of course, be explained as self-exculpation but that did not mean that it could not be true. The film, cannily, did not show that primal scene and so it remained out of sight as it must be to every senses of its participants, except the organ of memory. What the film did show was David's romance with Katie McCarthy (a very believable Kirsten Dunst), whom he married despite his father's disapproval. When Katie tried to assert her independence, finally by filing for separation, David did the desperate thing to keep her, he killed her.

Most interestingly, he drove with the body of his wife to see his father. The action could be construed as a pathetic act of vengeance. Since his father had inflicted on him a dead woman (his mother), he would return the favor by leaving a dead daughter-in-law in the car boot for his father to deal with. David's action could also be explained, however, as an offering, a way of making up to a father for not ever being man enough. In this perspective, a man's masculinity is constructed on the body of a dead woman.

David's gender insecurity might help explain why he took to wearing drag when trying to escape police investigation. It was hard to tell because the second half of the film seemed so much less motivated, psychologically as well as artistically. Besides the puzzling question about drag, the film did not make it credible that David's roommate, about to be thrown out by the landlord, would drive from Texas to California to shoot and silence someone for the sake of a place to stay. The roommate (Philip Baker Hall) was just one in a slew of minor characters who were needed to carry the story in the second half. The film grew slack to accommodate the action. Better writing and direction could have made the film a dark gem.

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