After my last post I had to take some time to withdraw. That’s when solitude can work as a soothing balm, allowing the personal space for reflection. Whether sudden or expected, young or old, death affects us all. And some strike a deeper chord.
A couple of days ago I got hold of The Savages on DVD. I thought I was late in watching this highly acclaimed indie film, and writing a review two years after its release. But watching it, I was surprised by the coincidence; for alas, it’s about death and aging. It’s ever timely now. I wouldn’t have appreciated it as much if I’d seen it then. For now, I’ve the first-hand experience of caring for two aging parents, and with my mother being in the early stage of Alzheimer. Two years ago I would not have imagined this scenario. But as those who have cared for the old can attest, two months can make a lot of difference.
As baby boomers begin to pass the turnstile into midlife, they now have to face the hard fact about their parents, and preparing for the ultimate to befall. Herein lies the story of The Savages.
Wendy Savage (Laura Linney, Best Actress Emmy for John Adams, 2008; Love Actually, 2003) and her brother Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Oscar Best Actor for Capote, 2005) live miles apart. Their childhood home had been dysfunctional. Their mother left them when they were still young, their father was neglectful and abusive. Now as adults, they both have trouble committing to intimate relationships. Jon teaches theater at the University of Buffalo, while Wendy is a struggling playwright, working as a temp to make ends meet in NYC. Living apart from each other and their father, both strive to carve out some sort of meaningful existence with their life. Now they are brought back together by the tie of responsibility, reluctantly, in the caring for their ailing father (Philip Bosco). An old man who is afflicted with Parkinson’s related dementia, Lenny Savage is still fiery and intimidating.
Among the acclaims the film has garnered (AFI movie of the year, Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards…) are two Oscar nominations, one for Laura Linney for Best Actress, the other for Tamara Jenkins’s Original Screenplay. Both deserve the recognition hands down. Unlike Sarah Polley’s impressive film Away From Her (2006) with Julie Christie as an Alzheimer stricken wife, The Savages looks at dementia and death from the point of view of the son and daughter, and delicately explores their conflicting emotions of having to care for an estranged father. The rebuilding of sibling relationship has also proven to be difficult, yet through the process, both find the experience to be worthwhile.
The Savages is classified as a comedy. The script is smart and funny. But it is dark and deadpan humor that marks its appeal. The reality of human failings is handled with care and sensitivity. Linney, Hoffman, and Bosco form a dynamic trio in portraying the tension of love hate emotions among family members. Despite the past failings of their father and their present perplexities of how best to care for him, the siblings know where their duty lies. Screenwriter and director Tamara Jenkins has effectively explored the issues without sentimentality and imbued humor at the appropriate moments. As with all of life’s predicaments, a little dash of humor can offer the most direct perspective into our shared humanity.
The special features offer insights into the making of the film and into the mind of the screenwriter and director Tamara Jenkins. Of all the subject matters, she chose the caring of our aging parents. I’ve appreciated her intent: “The idea was to make you realize that you’re not alone, that you’re part of the human race, that we’re all going through this together.” She’s done a great job in doing just that.
~ ~ ~ Ripples
(photo source: mtv.com)