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September 29, 2010

This  review has already been published by me at  PFC: Affliction.

Inflamed by greed, incensed by hate, confused by delusion, overcome by them, obsessed by mind, a man chooses for his own affliction, for others’ affliction, for the affliction of both and experiences pain and grief- Buddha

Affliction  to put in  very  simple  terms is  the  pain  or  suffering  from  one’s  own  adversity. At  times  it   can motivate a  person  to  fight  back,  and  move  ahead.  At  other  times, it  can  weigh down  heavily  on a  person’s  pysche, making  him take  out  his  pain  on  others.  In  1976  Paul  Schrader  wrote  the  screenplay  for  a movie  that  defined  the  angst  and loneliness  of  the  70′s  generation.  Travis  Bickle  was the  voice  of  the  urban  loner,  cynical, bitter,  tormented  inside,  some one for  whom  “loneliness  followed his life everywhere”.  Some one  who  wished  fervently  for  ” a  real rain to come  and  wash  away all the scum of  the streets”. While   Schrader  had  earlier  written  the  screenplay for  Sidney Pollack’s Yakuza ,  it   was  Taxi  Driver  that  shot  him into fame.   Over  the  years,  Schrader   would  write  the  hard hitting,  no  holds  barred  screenplays  for  other  Martin Scorsese  movies   Raging  Bull, Last  Temptation of  Christ,  Bringing out  the  Dead, as  well  as  Peter Weir’s    The Mosquito  Coast.   But  while  Schrader’s   contribution  as  a screenwriter  has  been  widely  acknowledged,  it  is  his  other  role  as a  director,  that  has  somewhat  been  overlooked.

Somehow  i  feel  the  critics  have  not  really  acknowledged his  role  as a  director,  the  verdict  is still  mixed.  It  is true  that  among  his  filmography,  there  are  movies  that  have  been distinctly Meh,  Cat People  and  that  Exorcist  Prequel,  of  what  i have seen.  But  I  would  say  down  the  years, he  has  come  up with  some  real  brilliant  stuff,  movies   that  might  not  have  made too much  noise or hype,  but   worthy  in their  own  way.   The  cynicism,  bitterness  and  angst,  that  generally  characterizes  his  scripts,  flows  down  into  his  movies.  It  is hard  not  to  feel  affected  by  the  sheer  emotional  intensity  and  the  way  his  characters  seem  to hurtle  down  with no redemption  in sight.  Be it  the  3   workers  of a  Rust Belt  Factory  trying to pull of a  heist in Blue Collar or  a  conservative small town  father  searching  for  his   runaway daughter  amongst  the sleaze ridden porno  movie world  in Hardcore or the  American  Gigolo on  the  run  facing  murder charges   or the  former  TV  star  Bob Crane  desperately  trying to  resurrect his career  in  Auto  Focus,    his  movies  are  the  kind  that  leave  you  shaken  up  and more often  than  not   depressed.   Could  there be  any thing more  gut wrenching  than  that  scene in Hardcore, where  the  father( George . C. Scott)   watches  his  runaway  daughter  in  a porn  movie?

Affliction   is  the  story  of  a  cop  Wade  Whitehouse( Nick Nolte),  living  in  one of  those   remote   small towns  all  around  US,  where  nothing  much  happens.  Wade  is  a  loner,  eking  out  an existence,  divorced, battling  for  the  custody  of  a  daughter  Jill  who  never   liked  him  much,  and carrying on a relationship  with  a  waitress  Margie Fogg( Sissy  Spacek). The  movie  starts  off  with a  visual,  showing  the  small town  of  Lawford, as  the camera  pans  over  the   various  places  associated  with  the  movie’s  principal  characters,  as  the  VO  of   Rolf  ( Wilelm Dafoe), Wade’s  brother,  recounts  the  proceedings.  The  opening  scene  itself  sets  up  the  rather  troubled  relationship   between  Wade  and  his  daughter Jill.  While  he  loves   her,  she  unfortunately  does  not  think too highly  about  him.  But  Wade’s   affliction  is  much  more  than  his  bitter  ex wife  Jillian  or  his  daughter, it  has  to  do  with  Wade’s  own  troubled  childhood.
Wade  had  been   consistently  abused  as  a child  by  his    father  Glen    aka  Pop(  James  Coburn). Some of  the  best  moments  in  the  movie  are  the  intercutting  flashbacks,  that  show  Wade and his brother Rolfe  having to endure  their  Dad’s  abusive  behavior.   Pop  is  the  kind  of  Dad,  you  would never  want to have   even in your worst  nightmares.   On  a Christmas  day  he  forces  his  sons  to  cut  wood  covered by  snow  and frozen.  Or  assaulting  his mother  and  Wade, in a  drunken  mood,  quite  a harrowing  scene.  But  to  me   the  hardest  hitting  scene,  was when  Wade  brings  Margie  home to meet  his  Dad, now  almost  70, but  no  change  in  his  behavior.  The  moment, where  Wade  walks into the bedroom  and  then finds  out  his  Mom  is  dead  is a  shocker.  What  makes it so shocking  is  that Pop  does not  even  know if  Wade’s  mom is dead  or  alive.  I  mean  even granted  the  fact, that  he is  a  callous,  uncaring  jerk,  it  still  shocks  to see  that  there  exist  such  people.

Listen to your little brother. ‘Wade, just leave it.’ Candy-asses. All of  you. That’s what I’ve got for  children. Candyasses. ‘Wade, just  leave it.’ Praise the Lord! ‘Just  leave it!’

Wade’s  troubled  relationship  with  his  domineering, abusive  father,  goes  back  to  Schrader’s  own  childhood.Isn’t  it  ironical  that   the  man who  wrote  the  screenplays  for some  really memorable movies,  did not  actually  see  a movie  till  he  was  18? Schrader  grew  up  in a strict  Calvinist  household, where  watching  movies  was  forbidden.  He  grew  up  in a home,  where  his  mom,  felt  there  was  nothing  wrong  in  stabbing his hand  with  a pin, whenever he  disobeyed her.    The  constant  physical  abuse  Wade   endures   at  the  hands of  his  father,  harked  back  to  his  own  childhood  days.   Even  in  Hardcore,  where  the  father( George . C.Scott)  is shown as  a morally upright  man,  he  hints  that  it  was  his  own  strict  dominating  nature, that  caused  his   daughter to run  away  from  home.   In  Affliction,  the  more  Wade  tries  to  move  away  from  his  father’s  shadow, the  more  he  turns  out to be   some  one  like  him.  It  is  as  if  the  years  of  abuse  endured  by  Wade   has  scarred him permanently.
On  the  surface  of  it  Affliction  is a  murder  mystery,  dealing  with  the  “accidental death”   of    Evan Twombley,  a union  official,  during  a  hunting  trip.  The  suspect  is  the local town boy  Jack Hewitt,  who tags  along  with  Twombley  for  the  hunt.  While  Jack  claims  that   the  death  was due  to an “accident”,   Wade  feels  that there could be  more  to  it.    Again  some  of  the  movie’s  most  engaging  parts  are  the  ones  where  Wade  keeps  talking to his brother  Rolfe  on  phone,  about his  views  on  the  crime. For  a  major part of  the  movie,  we  feel  Rolf’s  presence  only  through  the  VO  narration,  and  the  conversations  on phone  between  Wade and him.  But  it is  his  through  his character  that  we  actually   get to know  more of  Wade,  and  his  behavior.  Also  his  relationship  with Wade  seems  a  bit  more  ambiguous,  initially  he  seems  disproving of  his  brother’s  theories  on  the  incident, but  then he  is the one  who    suggests  to Wade  that  what he  thinks might  be  true.
Affliction is  not  an  easy  movie  to  watch.  It  is  dark, depressing,  and  more often than  not  moves  at a  rather  slow pace.   I  know  many  people  find  such  kind  of  movies  not  having  “entertainment” or  “boring”,   but i generally  like these  sort  of  slow  paced  psychological  thrillers.   The  kind  of  movies  where  the  emphasis  is on  the  characters  and their   motivations,  what  leads  them  to  their  actions.   One  reason  why  Insomnia still  remains one of  Nolan’s  best   movies  for  me, while   many  claim  it is  his  “weakest”  movie to date.   The  leisurely  pace  of   Affliction mirrors  the  pace of  the  small town,   and  the  dark, gloomy  winter  atmosphere,  the perpetually snow covered fields and roads, in  a way   set up  the  movie’s  moods.   I  felt  though  the  ending  could  have  been better.   While  it  is  quite   hard hitting  and  bleak,  the  excessive  VO  at  the  end, somewhat  lessened  the  impact.   While for me  Auto Focus to date remains  Paul  Schrader’s  best  movie  as  a director,  i  would  rate  Affliction  next  to it.
Affliction  is  also helped  by  some  great  performances  by  it’s  cast.   Nick  Nolte, is  top notch  as  Wade Whitehouse,  the  troubled,  protagonist.  Showcasing  a  protagonist  under  extreme  emotional  stress,  coming  apart, Nolte  more often  than  not  delivers.    Sissy  Spacek is  as  charming  as ever,  and  to me one of  the  best  actresses  around.  She  lends  grace, dignity  and  depth  to  her part  as  Margie.   And  yes  of  course  James  Coburn as  the  abusive  dad,  in  an  Oscar  winning  performance.  Coburn was one  of  the  60′s  stars,  usually  playing  the “tough  as nails  guy”  in umpteen  Western  and war movies.  And here  in a  role,  that  actually  mocks  at  “machoism”, Coburn  is  brilliant.  With  his  gruff  voice, huge  build  and  a  nasty  snarl, he  makes sure  that Glen Whitehouse aka Pop, will always  find  a place in the Rogues  Gallery.

From → 90's Hollywood

  1. Good movie. Its been an awesome movie carried out by some performers and having a story that touches everyone's movies

  2. Lovely write-up as usual. I agree with you — Sissy Spacek is one of the best, yet under-utilized actresses of our generation. I am a big fan of Coburn and it's one his best performances.

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