Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Savage Grace"- when is a mother's love too much

Another movie seen in the wee hours of the morning due to sleep disruption:

From Savage Grace is a 2007 film starring Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane, Eddie Redmayne, Hugh Dancy, and Elena Anaya. The film is directed by Tom Kalin and written by Howard Rodman, based on the book Savage Grace by Natalie Robins and Steven M. L. Aronson. The story is based on the true story of the dysfunctional, incestuous relationship between heiress Barbara Daly Baekeland and her son Antony.

This is a most difficult movie to watch. Julianne Moore is a great actress. She portrays the lead character, Barbara Baekeland, as an emotional predator who uses sex to deal with her anxiety, loneliness, lack of self esteem, and depression. Moore captures the fracture between Barbara’s ego and superego. She seemingly wreaks her havoc with no sense of remorse or even questioning the legitimacy of what she does. As a former actress, Baekeland took up acting to live out her life. In one scene taking place at the Stork Club, Barbara asks her husband if he would be willing to sleep with the last person he saw leaving the restaurant. He said yes. She became so infuriated that when she left, she hailed down the next car she saw being driven by a man. She got in presumably had a one-night stand with the stranger. In another scene, after confronting her husband in an airport as he was leaving with his girlfriend, Barbara leaves the terminal and flags down a cab. In the next scene she leaves a motel and tries to offer the driver money, which she refuses.

Stephan Dillane portrays her unavailable, emotionally detached husband who is the heir to the Bakelite fortune. He is something of an explorer and raconteur. He does not appear to bond with his new son, But ultimately grows weary of his wife and son and moves into a new life with his son’s ex-girlfriend.

Eddie Redmayne plays Barbara’s troubled son Antony. He is the heir to his mother’s smothering of him. She is so enmeshed with Anthony that taking a bath in front of him (and he in front of her), and having a three-way relationship with one of Barbara’s advisors/sycophants. In all fairness, the “friend” Sam Green later said "it is true that almost 40 years ago I did have an affair with Barbara, but I certainly never slept with her son, and nor did she, to the best of my knowledge. Nor am I bisexual...” But true or not, the scene with the three of them in bed with arms interlocked is certainly a shocker.

Antony is bright and learns several languages. He is a kind of trophy son for his mother. At one party, when all the guests are about to leave, Barbara invites young Tony to read a book in French. The guest wanted to leave and began to take their leave. Barbara became incensed and yelled at them as they left the house.

The most horrific scene is where Barbara is sitting on a sofa with Tony. She begins to feel his crotch, which he apparently responded to. She left the room and came back. She sat on Tony’s lap and proceeded to have intercourse with her own son. When he did not climax, she provided a manual assist. In the next scene Tony stabs his mother and orders take-out Chinese. When the police arrive, after he called them, he was found sitting on the floor next to his dead mother eating his rice.

Yes, this is disturbing stuff. I wonder why the producers thought this would make good box office, or any for that matter. But it is an absorbing look at the psyches of a very dysfunctional family. I do not think that that is necessarily bad if both the viewer and the director are respectful of the difficult material. Here I think it works.

As I mentioned above, Moore is wonderful and Redmayne is surprisingly good given his young age and the content of what he is being asked to do. I think it is a very good movie, but watch it at your own risk.

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