Wednesday, March 9, 2011
THAT EVENING SUN THE MOVIE
Today's movie a big surprise. American film made in eastern Tennessee instead of Hollywood. The surprise was an American film without everybody looking like the Pillsbury Dough Boy and a script that came from experience with country people instead of urban script writers who know nothing of country people. It was made from a short story by American writer William Gay. He is someone I'll be googling soon to learn about. I already see he is one hell of a good writer. Tells a good story and writes it well. The director Scott Teems wrote the script from the story, but I can see the original words in much of what was said. Like the the kind of line you don't hear much from Hollywood, "I don't have a long life ahead of me and it's not meandering. It's a short straight line like a poison-tipped arrow." That's a Southern writer. I look forward to discovering his writing.
Hal Holbrook is an old farmer of actually western Tennessee, though it was filmed in eastern Tennessee around Knoxville. As soon as it started I knew it was in this part of the world, mountains in the background, looking to me like the Cumberland Plateau somewhere in Tennessee. The part of Tennessee where the story took place doesn't have mountains. That threw me until at the end I saw in the credits it was the Knoxville area, quite a different geography. At the beginning, this 80 yr old man in a nursing home bored out of his mind packed his bag, walked out of the place and hired a cab to take him to the homeplace. His lawyer son had leased it to the county's lowlife redneck who lived on disability and drank beer leaving cans about. The old man was a farmer of the old ways, the old way of thinking, which no one around him understood except an old neighbor. He refused to be thrown off his own land. His son, the lawyer, had power of attorney and took it away from him when he went into the nursing home. It got real complex in that it was his land, his house, his farm he had spent his life working and worked it well enough to send his ungrateful son through law school.
It turned into a testosterone match between two roosters, the old man and the redneck who would be of grandson generation to the old man. We had 3 generations of men in this changing time, the old farmer of the old way of thinking that everything fell down around him, his son the lawyer with too much on his mind and too much of a schedule to worry over the cantankerous old turd, his dad. The old man knew the redneck's daddy and him and didn't like either one of them, couldn't tolerate this lowlife sleeping in the bed he and his wife had slept in. The two roosters went to war and it took some very bizarre twists. Those twists were wrung from the seething hatred growing between them from scene to scene.
It was a particular story as a kind of allegory of growing old in a time of change in a world the old boy helped build. He grew old and everything turned on him. Confinement to a nursing home was more than an old farmer could bear. The story addresses the fact that nearly every person in those places is not there by choice. The rest of the world doesn't get it that an old farmer can be an intelligent man. He may not talk with self-conscious erudition or know how to dress for success, which makes him all the more alone in this world. He has the intelligence and knowledge to know what's going on around him, but nobody is listening, he's old. He gets mad. He is a cantankerous old turd who doesn't mind what he says to anybody. He's tired of being talked down to, directed about like he doesn't have a mind of his own and can't take care of himself. Alas, the struggle is all inside himself and he can't get out of it, it's him. He becomes consumed by his own hatred and locked down. It's one of those deals where everybody is right in their own way. And everybody is wrong. Wrong because they don't approach the issue with reason. They throw reason aside and go entirely on emotion, the old way, hatred taking charge.
The lawyer son in the middle attempts to operate from reason, but learns from the start there's no place for reason in this mix. The old man of an Age before reason, who lived his life more emotionally, of the heart, than rationally, of the mind. The mind in his time was for figuring things out. The heart was what you lived by. The redneck guy grew up poor, quit school and quit paying attention a long time before that, so he missed his chance with reason too. In this time when we live more by the mind than we did in the 19th century and the last hundred years have been the transition, these kinds of conflicts are pretty much the order of the day. The old man's mind was ok. The redneck's mind was ok. It's just that they clashed and clashed hard. Their mind games they threw at each other were like clashing swords in kung-fu movies, clang, clang, swipe. Their swords were on full alert. The story actually had tension in it that action movies fail to achieve, because they don't go so deep emotionally. This story dove way deep into the sea of emotions in a testosterone storm. Two men that hate each other and want to kill each other, but neither of them has what it takes to go that far.
All the way through it, I was appreciating William Gay's writing. I want to read some of his stories. This had a whole lot of scenes for a short story, but some short stories are long. Sometimes watching a movie, I get to appreciating the writing of the script, this time more than any. Of course, it was rewritten, but the original is still there and the rewriting was masterful too. It brought to mind David Lynch's film, THE STRAIGHT STORY, the story of an old retired truckdriver who'd lost his drivers license to too much drunk driving. Another great film THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL is the story of an old farm woman in a small Texas town, Bountiful, in the 1930s taken by her son to the city where she has to live as house keeper for him and his hothouse flower wife.
THAT EVENING SUN is another story of the tribulations of old people whose culture has died away from them and they're in a world where the morality is upside down from that they'd lived their lives by. It made me grateful that I had what it took to help Jr in his last years keeping him out of the nursing home so he could die in his own bed. It was important to him. The old man in the story had no one who understood what he was going through. This was the problem he had with his son the lawyer, who didn't get it that it was important to him to die at home. He was a cantankerous old shit because he was alone in the world and shut out. He got himself a barking dog just so they'd have to hear him. The story took us through his thoughts and feelings such that it became the illustration of his feelings. I loved that about it. He became not just a character in a movie, but a living man.