Director: Tamara Jenkins
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney
UK Release date: 25 January 2008
Certificate: 15 (114 mins)
A must-see. You’ll remember this one for ever. Images will stay with you, of agonising embarrassment; ludicrous situations; pity; stomach-churning empathy; the blackest humour.
Not much to laugh about, one might think. The old man (Philip Bosco) has to be placed in a care home. The children, Jon and Wendy, (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney) – selfish and neglectful, have to do something. Their dismal, meaningless lives are interrupted.
But there were a lot of laughs – sometimes painful, and I even oozed a viscous tear. The squalid human failings of Jon and Wendy, senility, derangement, incontinence, care-homes, death, are not all there is.
These serious things loom over the horizon for most people, either for themselves or for their family. It gives an anxiety to the film: “how will I cope?” You could look on The Savages not so much as an instruction course on how not to do it, but on what not to be when you have to do it.
The old man is unattractive. Wendy and Jon are anxious and striving intellectuals, with well-meaning but shabby and useless lives. (Apologies to playwrights, teachers and philosophers who cannot be thus categorised). They are busy – Wendy with adultery, Jon about a mistress. They have little contact with each other, less with their father.
Painfully, like adhesive plaster being pulled off, they begin to be detached from their own affairs and busy with the old man: a sort of temporal redemption. The ending is very nearly, “happy”.
A Christian message then? Jesus isn’t mentioned except as an expletive. But he taught that love (doing the true best for the other) is the same as love of him; and that if you give your life for another you become the perfect lover. Wendy and Jon, with only a reluctant sense of duty as motive and with endless regret, find themselves manoeuvred into some level of genuine love.
Witty but bleak. Savage, the family name, fits as a description. Deprived pupils of modern society they are. A Christian family would suffer no less, but they would not be subjected to a meaningless bombardment of incomprehensible and useless indignities and loss.
The bombardment and indignities make the humour and the pathos. But a Christian would find nobility, not degradation and incoherence.
Do see it. Laughs; horror; wit; tenderness; wisdom. Tamara Jenkins writes and directs. Engaging music sequences arranged by Randall Foster.
John Edwards SJ
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