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The Squid and the Whale, Lumiere, San Francisco

It is always a bit disconcerting when a film touches too closely to one's own life. I was poignantly reminded of that recently when seeing the film, Far from Heaven. In one scene, the husband, Dennis Quiad, surreptitously enters a gay bar (this is in the '50s) to...discover! What overwhelmed me at the time was a feeling excitement, self-hatred, denial, acceptance, and fear as the scene vividly recalled the look and feel, at least to me, of a gay bar before the revolution.
 
I had a similar experience in this film by Noah Baumbach. Jeff Daniels, in an uncanny reprise of his character, Flap Horton, in Terms of Endearment, plays Bernard Berkman, a faded author, whose very appearance bespeaks another faded in the not too distant past. His wife Joan, played by Laura Linely, seems to go from success to success. She seems to write well, gets published, has the genuine affection of at least one of her children, and has no problem attracting lovers. There are two children, Walt - a chip-off-the-block of his father, played by Jesse Eisenberg, and Frank - a free spirit, played by Owen Kline. As this family disintegrates, we are left to watch the realignments and self realizations that occur. I was taken with one scene where the father and the elder son are in a car outside the mother's house in Brooklyn - they staring in to a former world; while the mother and the younger child (out on the side walk) stare at the transitory world represented in the car.
 
Well, back to this film and my life. There were several things that tugged, not at my heart, but rather at my gut. There was, in general, the heady optimism of the '70s, that comes crashing into the reality of now. In the world of my childhood, people simply did not get divorced. So when I did, it was like the entrance to the underworld. All that I had chosen to be was going to work, was going to be good, and was going to be exemplary. Like Bernard Berkman, I had a superior view of things - that would not fail. The recourse to all of this, the reconfiguring of life itself, is what I found compelling, in a chilling kind of way, about this film. Some of it is comedic - all of the arrangements that surround a joint custody, or the petty lies and accommodations that are quickly exposed and found wanting.
 
The metaphor of competition, seen in the comparison of the careers of the father and mother, is an aspect of divorce that is not often talked about. Bernard takes on the challenge using the tools of bluster and bluffing, while the mother Joan, just watches with petty-amusement. These are the behaviors that soon direct the young boys. In one amazing scene, Walt, the older son, attempting to impress a young woman in whom he is interested, talks about "Metamorphosis" as being "Kafkaesque". Sadly only a good half of the theater laughed. Soon the son begins to mimic the father in being less than honest in his relationships with women - the sins of the fathers.
 
Another aspect of this film, is not only the conflict between truth-telling, and bluster, but also the discovery of the flesh. Sex, alcohol, playfulness, flexibility all reveal themselves to young Frank. I was reminded of my own gay adolescence, when I realized that I could finally be honest with the world, and myself, about who I actually was. One goes sort of crazy. Frank ended up being my favorite character not in spite of his antics, but because of them. His boundaries were not Walt's, nor those of his father. He knew he was in a new land.
 
It took me a much longer time...
 
 
MTH 11/12/05
 
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