2014 Reel Theology: August Osage County (A detour)

So four movies into my viewing of best picture nominees,  I’ve finally seen what appears to me to be a reasonable nominee for best movie of the year.   Except it wasn’t.

I went to see it partly because several of the actors are nominated for awards, and partly because I was interested in it.  So although it’s not on the list of best movies, I will provide my brief reaction below.

My reactions to August Osage County, with an attempt not to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

The pre-movie expectations

It’s like a Tennessee Williams play.  That’s what I had heard and this guided my expectations.  For me, this means that it would be a one room set where we watch a family unravel through a sudden burst of confessional honesty about enormous implausible past tragedies drawn out by the presence of ordinary tragedy. The writing would be good, the dialogue interesting and engaging, and the basic plot line mostly irrelevant, but also dramatic and emotionally wrenching.  Of course I wasn’t sure how what was really meant by the comparison.  Perhaps it would be more movie like in setting and scenery and less in dialogue, or perhaps they only meant that it would be tragic and dramatic.  I hoped that wasn’t all it meant.  I drew hope from the quality of the cast.

The Set Up
I went with my daughter Lorien, who is truthfully on of the few people I regularly hang out with who would have any idea of what “It’s like a Tennessee Williams Play” would mean, and even fewer people who would be eager to go see said play.  The opening credits revealed that Tracy Letts wrote both the play and the screenplay.  Tracy Letts won the Pulizter prize for his original play, so now I”m expecting it to be pretty close to the play itself.  I’m frankly expecting to enjoy this, and I’m expecting the storyline to be depressing.  Not my usual combination of expectations.

My reactions
In a nutshell, my reaction lined up well with my expectations.

I was not surprised to see that

    The dialogue was excellent.  Engaging and interesting, no matter what the topic.  The movie begin with an eloquent and appropriately used T. S. Elliot quote and continued with lots of literary references, as appropriate to the characters, when appropriate.

The pacing was always moving forward, even though pretty much all set in one room around a couple days of dialogue between dysfunctional family members.

The family we are watching is unbelievably dysfunctional, up to and including the kind of tragic coincidences that only occur in Soap Operas (and Tennessee Williams type plays)

I was pleasantly surprised to see that

The acting was even better than I anticipated (which was a lot.)  I’m not sure I have ever seen movie with so many different actors who were all so amazingly natural and good.  Not only were these top notch actors, but they all seemed to be at the top of their game, as if by working with each other the bar was raised for all of them.  It would have been a joy to watch this movie even without dialogue and I’ve already told you the dialogue was amazing.  The acting was just that good.

The overall feel of the movie wasn’t completely unbearably bleak.  It was bleak.  AT times unbearable.  But not completely.  In fact, the ending of the movie is slightly, but significantly different from the play.  I’m not sure why, Tracy chose to do this, but the result is a slightly, but significantly more hopeful arc.

My Seven Themes thoughts so far.

Fellowship is a huge theme in the movie, as it is with movies of this type.  It is the coming together of the family that leads ultimately to the revelation of who the family actually is, with all its carefully unacknowledged dysfunction

Redemption is always what you long for in a movie of this type, but rarely actually achieve.  Often the point is that there is no real redemption, just revelation.  However, in this movie (thought perhaps not in thep lay) there is a definite sense of redemption for one character in particular.

Alternate worlds is a definite in this movie.  The changed ending emphasizes this.  The beginning emphasizes this.  People come from all over and the feel is that August Osage County is one world and everywhere else is another.   The sense that these people are different when not in this county may be a false one, but it is a sense nonetheless, and adds to the idea of alternate worlds.  Interestingly though we only see one world, and the other is merely hinted at.

Christ figure is difficult.  Is it the matriarch who made them all what they are (meaning messed up)?  I”m not sure there is one.  It depends on how strongly you see the redemption alluded to earlier.  Without a spoiler, I can not say anymore.

Resurrection is weak at best.  It’s more lots of little deaths and self destruction, symbolized by one central death and self destruction.

Substitutionary Love…no way!

Justice seems absent in any significant way, unless you see the revelation of hidden secrets as Justice, although it doesn’t strike me that way.

Current Ranking in my mind (Unchanged because this wasn’t a best picture nominee).

American Hustle

I’m not sure I exactly recommend this movie for most people.  It’s not exactly entertaining, it’s definitely not fun.  It’s slower than some would like, way to bleak for a lot of my friends, and oddly to hopeful for others of my friends.   It is definitely not the most enjoyable or entertaining movie I’ve seen, but it is in quality of craft, definitely the best of the movies I’ve watched for this years Oscar race.

I rate movies according to how much of my money and time they are worth.  My rating for this movie is bolded below.

Worth a full price movie ticket

Worth a matinee viewing.

Worth a dollar movie viewing.

Worth a DVD/itunes rental

Watch it on Netflix

Watch it on TV on a Saturday Afternoon when you’v nothing else to do and you’r sonly laying around anyway.

Not worth your time

Influencing factors in my reactions

I always enjoy movies with my daughter more. She enjoyed the movie for the same reasons I did which confirms how I felt when we discussed it, and there were few scenes that were awkward to watch with my daughter (which always diminishes the experience).   We watched it in the theater, which made it feel more theatrical than watching it on TV would have.  So ironically watching it in a movie theater added to the feel of it being like a live play.  This improved my impression, no doubt.

This is just my reaction.  What was yours?

One Comment

  1. Fellowship is the big theme, but it’s a perverted representation of fellowship, as the fellowship is what continues to tear people down, and it is only if an individual is able to escape the fellowship that he or she has hope of happiness.

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