The Door in the Floor

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 

Be warned that “The Door in the Floor” is sad and that the sadness stays with you - but don’t miss it.  Jeff Bridges’ performance is quiet, subtle, and finally, overwhelmingly big hearted.  This actor, who consistently surprises audiences with his range, has outdone even himself this time.  The story is based on “A Widow for One Year,” another trip through twists and turns of the unexpected by novelist John Irving.  Author Irving is perfectly matched with Bridges, an actor fully capable of taking us through an astonishing array of emotions as we watch the story unfold.  Luckily, author and actor are strongly supported by a fine cast and by the strong direction and screenwriting of Tod Williams. 

Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges), a successful author of children’s books, drew much of his material from the childhood of his sons, Timmy and Tom, while his wife Marion (Kim Basinger) made the boys the center of her life. They were a solid creative family living in the beauty of the Hamptons waterfront when the boys were killed in a horrific automobile crash.  They have since had Ruthie (Elle Fanning), now five, a mistake Marion acknowledges because of her inability to mother her.  There just isn’t anything left in that well.  Ruthie is absorbed with the photographs of her brothers that line the hallway.  They represent a life for her that may have existed before her father sank into alcohol and women, and her mother into a state of lifelessness that brings her as close to her sons as she can get.

Ted lures women to the house to be subjects for his book illustrations; he sketches them, beds them, and discards them; they mean nothing to him.  This summer he hires Eddie (Jon Foster), an Exeter junior, to be his assistant.  The bulk of Eddie’s time, Ted tells him, will be spent at the apartment Marion is using during their trial separation.  This leads, of course, to a prolonged affair between the two.  Kim Basinger plays Marion with great understanding, encouraging Eddie without much emotional or physical participation on her part.  Eddie won’t bring this mother back to life, but being with Eddie brings Marion closer to her sons.

Without sentimentality, Jeff Bridges pulls the story threads together and reveals the depth of his own humanity.  Walking determinedly across the lawn in a rumpled nightshirt under a red umbrella, or reading from his books, Bridges proves himself a superb story teller with a master’s ear for words, images, and nuance.  All the questions we ask ourselves along the way are answered in a long final sequence that is simply beautiful.   Only when Bridges’ Ted has done all he can to mend his family can he collapse into his own sadness.  This is the rare kind of emotional experience that can occur when a storyteller like John Irving is interpreted by an actor like Jeff Bridges.  At last, a movie has appeared during the summer that is just too good to skip.


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