And just think, everyone means well.

When Did You Last See Your Father

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis



            ďWhen Did You Last See Your FatherĒ invites us to think about that question without trying to teach us a lesson. It is a merciful truth of this fine movie that it resists both sentimentality and resolution.

            How many parent/child relationships remain unresolved? After eighteen years of childhood, how many children really wonder who their parents have become after raising them, seeing them instead simply as older versions of who they once were? In this movie, Blake Morrison carries a permanent scar of anger toward his father Arthur (Jim Broadbent). When Blake goes to visit the dying Arthur, we learn why as director Anand Tuckerís extremely clever flashbacks bring us the full measure of the sonís childhood embarrassments at the hands of his father.

            Arthurís sins werenít corrosive; they were of the eroding kind. He loved to be with people and he inflicted on them his relentless good cheer. His friends may have loved it but his wife and son withdrew into a permanent state of apprehension. What would Dad say next to embarrass them? Because this is Blakeís story, his mother Kim (Juliet Stevenson) suffers off to one side, but believe me, Mr. Morrison, who wrote the book this movie is based on, could easily write a second book about his mother.

            Arthur had no bad intentions. His habit of joking to friends about his son in front of the boy may even have shown how much he loved him, but to Blake the small boy (Bradley Johnson) and Blake the teenager (Matthew Beard), the paternal cheer meant nothing but humiliation. We see Arthurís love in a wonderfully prolonged driving lesson on the beach that starts with embarrassment and ends in smiles. His love is there; it is just covered most of the time in the humiliation of a 16 year old who canít possibly understand the equation.

            Juliet Stevensonís Kim, withdrawn in defense against the husbandís high spirits, steps out of her shell only to protect her children from embarrassment. The innocent young Blake, wide-eyed in pure adoration, morphs into Matthew Beardís marvelous teenager whose resentment of his hearty father accelerates through the ordeal of being his son. Colin Firthís Blake cannot erase his anger. He comes to Arthur as death approaches, but he comes on his own terms: talk to me, Dad. Dad canít, and the son cannot rise to the moment by accepting that.

            Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth absorb us thoroughly as the father and son unable to transcend themselves. Their mutual sadness is perhaps best shown in an early metaphor. Stuck in traffic and late for an auto race, Arthur passes traffic on the right to the fury of everyone stuck in the long, patient line and talks his way shamelessly into an A class parking lot. Mother protects her children by engaging them in song to drown out the discomfort wrought by the father who never understands that he is inflicting humiliation. And just think, everyone means well.

 


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