If the murder of their son erased their lives, it is the prospect of leniency for the murderer that erodes their souls.


An Illusion review

                In keeping with the character of the principals, “In the Bedroom” is a slow, deliberate movie punctuated by one act of violence that defines everything else.  The audience is dropped into the unthinkable – the murder of a son – and is left there to imagine how the parents can get through their grief, much less through the day, or the month, or next year. 

                Dr. Matt Fowler (Tom Wilkinson) runs a low-key general practice in a coastal Maine town.  His wife, Ruth, (Sissy Spacek) runs the house and teaches choral singing at the high school.  Their son Frank (Nick Stahl) is home for the summer before starting graduate school in architecture.  Between setting and pulling lobster pots, Frank is falling wildly in love with Natalie (Marisa Tomei) and her two young sons.  Hovering demonically in the background is Natlie’s ex, Richard (William Mapother.)  That’s it:  mother, father, son, lover, ex.  We meet them all early on, and we know what’s coming because this is a movie not about murder but about grief and culture. 

                This is northern New England, where crimes often spring from dark isolation rather than from the random closeness of city tragedies.  And when they happen, don’t expect to see Hollywood style rage.    You will see instead more than two hours of New England rage:  Matt and Ruth withdrawn completely into their shells of heartbreak, rarely sleeping, prowling their house, all purpose gone.  Matt is a mediator, not a confronter.  Ruth, at the end of her rope with a legal bureaucracy that can promise only 5-10 years on manslaughter for the murderer (there is no witness to the shot), begins to snarl at the husband who is trying to comfort her.  If the murder of their son erased their lives, it is the prospect of leniency for the murderer that erodes their souls.

                Director Todd Field presents the details of this awful twist of life quietly, without histrionics.  He allows telling moments to build in awful accumulation, each detail adding to the weight of the whole, until the tension is nearly unbearable.  In the impenetrable silence, the gulf between Matt and Ruth is nowhere more clear than in their once comfortable bedroom where the inches between their tensed bodies can no longer be crossed by the touch of a hand or the sound of a voice.  As they approach their breaking points, each unleashes the pent up feelings about the weakness of the other.  This is as powerful a scene, written and acted, as you may ever see.   

                For once, a director and cast have managed to capture the relentless silence that can envelop and magnify the deep emotion of a New Englander.  Sissy Spacek, a Hollywood outsider, and Tom Wilkinson, a British Shakespearean actor, have managed to reduce whole theaters to absolute silence without raising their own voices.  Pierce the heart of a New Englander, and you don’t get Hollywood fireworks.  You get the controlled rage of this fine movie. 


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