Saturday, September 12, 2009
The love of Caden’s life is Hazel, who lives in a house that is always smoke-filled and burning. Even when we see her purchase the house she thinks aloud with the realtor about whether she will end up dying in the fire—strolling contemplatively from room to room as flames flicker through a window or in a corner.
Caden’s four-year-old daughter Olive, who he loves dearly, remains four in his mind long after his wife and her lesbian lover have spirited her off to Germany and she has grown up to be a tattooed erotic dancer whose flower tattoos are dying as she does and who has, inexplicably, a German accent. In the end, each character including Caden himself is defined by a particular characteristic (here’s one of many cases where synecdoches seem to come in) but at the same time we see how limiting and artificial those definitions are, and that in reality each character has layers and depths that we can only begin to understand. A few words in shorthand from the director to tell the actors who they are or how to be seem more and more inadequate.
I think Caden in his mid-life crisis feels trapped by these limitations he has applied to himself and others around him. In the end of the movie when he’s much older as is Hazel, there is a beautiful, golden scene in which they are briefly able to move beyond these limitations and their love shines through. But of course life is short and there is a price to pay for choosing to live in a smoke-filled house afire, or loving someone who does. They only grasp what is truly important and real at the last possible moment.
Eventually, Caden takes on the role of his ex-wife’s cleaning lady Ellen, and the actress who was playing this role becomes the director, guiding his actions through a small earpiece he’s been provided. The last instruction he gets is simply, “Die.”
Let me make it clear that these observations only touch the surface of what is going on in this very complex film – it is definitely worth seeing and will generate some good conversation.