In the Bedroom (2001)

Rated R for some violence and language.

Starring Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei, William Mapother.
Directed by Todd Field.
Written by Robert Festinger and Todd Field.
Based on a short story by Andre Dubus.
Distributed by Miramax Films.
130 minutes.

Photo ©Miramax Films. All rights reserved.

Pondering a Death

I almost forgot that I placed so much value on a productive, individual life. The majority of humankind lead such lives, and everyday it is taken for granted. In the movies, people die with little or no thought of the aftermath; in the news, the latest death is just another blurb to be glossed over or casually disregarded.

In the face of such densensitizing comes In the Bedroom, a film that spends the majority of its running time depicting the grief people suffer through when one human being close to them is lost. The movie starts out in idyllic fashion. In modern-day New England, we meet a young couple: he is the college-aged son of a suburban couple, she is an older woman with two young children and an ex-husband. At first the movie appears to be a romantic drama, but tragedy strikes before long. Worse yet, death comes in the form of that most unjust of circumstances -- murder.

My thanks goes to director Todd Field, who takes his time with his portrayal of grief. Those connected with the victim bravely face the pain by trying to return to their normal lives in some capacity. However, the gravity of the loss looks them in the eye no matter where they go and no matter what they do. Minutes go by like hours, hours go by like days. Scenes that show the days go by are quiet and solemn, fading to black before transitioning to the next scene. Meanwhile, the world around them goes on, indifferent to their misery. It is a cold cold feeling.

Witnissing the slow and steady process of trying to carry on deeply affected me. It reminded me that the murder of a loved being has great ramifications for a small group of people. What's sad is that the rest of the world doesn't seem to care. I remember watching and reading about the O.J. Simpson trials in 1996 and becoming increasingly appalled at the growing lack of public sympathy for the angry Fred Goldman, father of murder victim Ron Goldman. Apparently, some people were growing impatient with his outbursts to the journalists about seeking justice for his son and about placing the blame squarely on Simpson. All I remember thinking was that he had a right to be that angry. I would never have wanted to be in his shoes. I don't think I would've even had that much composure.

However, to praise In the Bedroom solely for the way it addresses grief would be unfair. This is a complex movie that also looks at the dynamics of couples and the obligations each person in a couple must keep in order to maintain a working relationship. It looks at the ugly sides of love and fidelity. It eventually brings attention to the logically related issue of retribution. How justified is it? How far should it go? Can it ever be truly satisfying?

All of these questions are left for the audience to ponder on its own. In the Bedroom may not give definite answers to how people should deal with love, death, and revenge, but it does one thing for certain. It portrays death and murder as it should be portrayed -- as an unforgettably tragic, human loss.

Rating: 10/10

©Jeffrey Chen, Jan. 5, 2002