"In the Bedroom" the debut film by director Todd Field, tells the story of a couple whose son, a teenager with a promising future as an architect, is killed by his lover's estranged husband. Their loss disrupts the gentle cycles of their small-town life in Maine, and forces the couple, played by Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek, into a fierce reckoning about their marriage and their future together. Spoiler note: If you haven't seen the movie, you won't learn the ending here, but if you don't want any hints at all, best to come back after you've been to the theater.
What did you think about the way Tom Wilkinson's and Sissy Spacek's characters handle their problem?
The filmmaker did a great job of drawing the viewer into sympathy with the parents. You understand their grief and rage and frustration with the system. Even as a Christian, I've told my wife that if you're going to break the news to me that somebody has done something to one of our kids, make sure I'm out of state, because I'll tend to take revenge and deal with it later.
But it's the epitome of a story told by somebody without a hopeful world view. These people are enraged and grief-stricken, but clearly their answer is not the answer. They compound the crime, and it gets them nothing. This picture ends on such a hopeless, devastating note. There's no satisfaction whatsoever in the deed. The kid is still dead and we're left with nothing. It's just hopeless. It's very gritty and real and beautifully rendered, but it's one of the reasons I'm a filmmaker now. Not that all my pictures are going to be sweetness and light. People are going to go through tough stuff, but.
Our first picture was released in January. It's sort of an uplifting high school football film. We enter it in competitions and then go to see the rest of the films. While we feel we've made a credible film--one Christians don't have to cringe at, or say it looks like it was made in the church basement--it look almost like pollyanna next to what some people are doing, because they are filming things so literally. They'll put a filter on the lens to film something literally darker, say about child abuse, and it ends just hopelessly.
Those are the ones that usually win the awards. This one is done so beautifully, except that it's such a downer. At one point the father's friend says you need to move out of town. If I were making this picture, I have the friend say I need to protect you from making this worse. Let's do what we have to do to make sure justice is rendered. That's a true friend, someone who would help this father to work through the grief and talk him out of ruining his life.
It was encouraging that the priest was a part of their lives, and a friend, though early on he's sort of nudging them about not seeing them at church. When he tries to comfort the grieving mom, though, rather than point to the story of Christ, and the fact that God is a grieving parent over a lost son, he comes up with this vision that another of his parishioners had, one that made her feel not so alone [when her child died]. It does nothing for Sissy Spacek's character. She only wants to know, how did the girl die?
A loss like the one couple faced is in a way a test of who you are. It seems like these two people failed.
The fallacy of how this movie looks at grief is the way-and it probably reflects much of society-is that grief justifies anything. If you are hurt this badly, people will even forgive you for revenge.
The parents are both sympathetic as long as they are grieving. But I found it interesting that when she tells her husband that she saw her son's killer in town, she says he smiled at her. I watched carefully, and he didn't smile at her. It was as if she tried to make it worse than it was. They flirt with reconciliation and forgiveness. They apologized to each other, and tried to comfort each other. I was hopeful that something was going to come from that: nothing's going to make it easier, but maybe they can start to grow. Then it just all spirals down.
You said before that God is a grieving parent. How does that work to comfort people who have lost someone?
Yeah, I'm not sure how comforting it would be. But I've heard other people use that and while it's not very comforting just to say, you're not the only grieving parent, God does know how it feels because he's been there. He had a perfect son and people killed him.
If you go further, you can say God knew his son would resurrect. But when we're told that God knows our sorrows and griefs and that Christ lived through all of our temptations, surely that has to be a step toward more sympathy and healing than the story the priest told.
What did these people do to deserve their fate? We watch them blame each other for what has happened, but what is the original sin here?
If I was going to look at it as a morality tale, or from a Christian world view, I'd say that as nicely as the picture starts out, with a successful family well thought of in town, it's a real mess.
I don't think the film is making a political statement, but it does seem to say the justice system, its lack of guaranteed punishment, causes further suffering.
Yeah that is a significant frustration. I come from a family of law enforcement agents, who know the frustration of cops who rough people up because they know that's the only punishment they are going to get. So you can identify with the revenge feelings the parents in this film. But in my mind that's what we've been redeemed from, from taking vengeance that belongs to God, taking the law into our own hands and compounding wrong with wrong.