16 February 2014

A Dark Valentines Day--August: Osage County

I suspect most couples seeing a movie on Valentines Day choose a romance or a light-hearted comedy. We chose a tragedy with August: Osage County. Suicide, adultery, drug addiction, incest--you name it; whatever it takes to put the "dys-" in a dysfunctional family. But oh my, what acting! Meryl Streep absolutely deserves the Academy Award for best actress for her stark portrayal of Violet Weston, daughter and mother of abuse and wife of a suicide (and who made sure she cleaned out the safe deposit box before reporting him missing). It's not often that an actress plays a character older than herself but Streep is simultaneously baleful and the object of pity in her portrayal of Violet.

When the two daughters of Violet who had moved away return home (with the no-goodnik men in their lives) to the bleak scenery and burning August heat of Osage County, Oklahoma, to address their father's disappearance, all hell-on-earth breaks out as the past and present cycles of shame, bitterness, hurt, and anger burst their banks for nearly two hours of vitriol.

Yet, that's not all.

Only people bound by the deep, natural bonds of family would care enough to tolerate and heap out the verbal abuse that characterizes the "Weston family reunion." We are invited not simply to observe but to feel the continuing losses experienced by Violet, her daughters, her granddaughter, as well as her sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. Even the burgeoning hope for happiness of youngest daughter Ivy and "Little Charles" Aiken, who had always believed they were cousins, is snatched away by the revelation of a shocking event of nearly a half-century earlier. No hope for anyone, and that's just the way it is.

If Saving Mr. Banks was about reconciliation and happiness, Philomena about the power of forgiveness, and Inside Llewyn Davis our inner worst enemy, then August: Osage County reminds us that the human lot of pain and hurt is both deeper and broader than we like to imagine. With only occasional glimpses of the milk of human kindness, August: Osage County might leave us to hope only in the oblivion of death. But those glimpses are enough, playwrite and screen adapter Tracy Letts seems to be saying, to keep us going. I'm not sure that would be enough for me but the reality of the bleak despair of many from what should be a resource of strength is a firm reminder that the optimism that ordinarily characterizes what entertains us is only a temporary escape. Hope needs a firmer foundation than ourselves.

This film's R-rating is appropriate. The dark subject matter coupled with the characters' language makes it inappropriate for those whose consciences are sensitive. Nonetheless, the message and the actors' portrayals make it a serious work whose message is worth considering.

No comments:

Post a Comment