Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Ballad of Jack and Rose

I've been on a Daniel Day-Lewis kick lately, which eventually led me to watch 2005's The Ballad of Jack and Rose, written and directed by Lewis's wife, Rebecca Miller. Thank goodness. The film is lyrical and gorgeous, and unlike anything else I've ever seen.

The film takes place in the 1980s and  tells the story of Jack Slavin (Daniel Day-Lewis), an environmentally-conscious ex-hippy educated in Scotland and nostalgic for a simpler way of life. He lives in the ruins of a commune off the southeast coast of the United States with his daughter Rose (Camilla Belle), whom he has long sheltered from the corrupt influences of the outside world. When he sickens and begins to die, however, he attempts to introduce her to life beyond the island, and, as her little  world crumbles, so does Rose.

I've read reviews that peg this film as an indulgent, voyeuristic look at an incestuous father/daughter relationship, but I think such judgment entirely misses the nuances of the story.  As cracks form in Rose's universe, she clings to the only real human connection she has. Sickness and an older woman (who, for Rose, can only be a stranger) threaten to take her father from her, and she reacts in the only way she knows. She confuses one kind of love for another, having had only one gauge for it in her memory.

Everything about this film is rich and heady. The colors, the symbolism, the pacing. The soundtrack is perfect. Daniel Day-Lewis is, of course, mesmerizing, but I was also pleasantly surprised by Camilla Belle. Having only ever seen her in 2009's Push and a little Disney made-for-TV movie called Rip Girls way back in 2000, I was skeptical. But she does a nice job here, oscillating between the angelical and the dangerous with ease.


My favorite scene was one at the tail end of the film. Jack has passed away, and Rose sets fire to their Utopic home, intending (as she's been saying throughout the film), to die with him. At the last minute, she changes her mind. It's a gorgeous scene, and one that seems impossible to find (in decent form) on the internet. You can watch here, just ignore the thunderous Thai dubbing after the fade-out:

My only wish is that it had ended with that fade-out (when she's in the boat). I like the ambiguity there., which reminded me very much of the famous final freeze-frame of Les quatre cents coups (1959).

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