June Pictures, Nine Stories Productions 2018 105 Minutes Category 12 Directed by Paul Dano Starring Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp
Set in 1960 this film captures the unfolding story of a disintegrating marriage through the lens of the couple’s 14-year-old son Joe. The story explores the eclipse of the American dream in the life of one family, who have ended up in Montana after a series of moves.
The dream dies as aspirations of advancement fade, money becomes tight, relationships strain to breaking point and all the recognisable reference points of regular family life begin to disappear into a black hole of dysfunction.
I like the way that the director uses teenager Joe to wordlessly narrate the film. While his diet, school work and wellbeing all suffer due to the ratcheting tension at home, remarkably he manages to keep things together and is the one stable person through the narrative; at the end of the film he gives a brief glimpse of hope.
This film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Ford’s novel Wildfire. The title refers to a raging fire in Montana, that the father in the story leaves home to fight with a local team. Fire is a metaphor for the anxiety that burns away the tenderness that made this family work.
Director Paul Dano said, "In Richard Ford’s book I saw myself and many others. I have always wanted to make films – and have always known I would make films about family.”
Family can be an idol and a burden; it is also often an unrealisable dream. When we are in love with the dream of a family, it is unlikely that we will make much progress in building a real one. This film is a reminder that is easier to destroy a family than build one!
John Woods is pastor of Lancing Tabernacle in West Sussex