The setting is an upper-middle-class New Jerseyesque landscape of manicured lawns, gorgeous homes with perfectly furnished mise-en-scène interiors, the comfort of the reliable family doctor, well-fashioned holiday décor, and the usual adultery, drug use, deception, lies, and secrets that lie underneath the soft belly of the burbs. As Harris himself said in a “Director’s Statement,” describing his motivation for writing the movie, “I've always been interested in what's underneath a person's shell,” the film does just that – opening a shell that would otherwise be closed – while it does not outdo the brilliant opening of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, the juxtaposed image of a man mowing his clean, green lawn with bugs eating away at a human finger – the movie shines in its picturing of the sound of myriad hearts breaking simultaneously. Compared to other recent films that deal with similar issues, like the Chumscrubber, this movie is less ample on the satire and more strident with the gut.
Even in its darkest moments, Dan Harris manages to keep the comedy intact, but not losing the gravitas of its subject, drawing out the theme of imaginary heroes. The film is taut with child/parent disappointment. The son has to remind the mother at his brother’s funeral to get out of the limousine, “Mom, this is where we live.” The film is about the dubious roles of parents and heroes, but it is also about the paradox of sharing our lives with those we love, how we can become strangers even to our own lives, and the inane stupidity of those around us marked by moments of insights even from the groggiest of characters. We would rather keep ourselves to ourselves, keep our secrets intact, but life does not allow that to happen, as Dan Harris himself has pointed out about his film, “An outside force has to do it - to shatter it to pieces”.
|Emile Hirsch has a pretty decent emo loner guise|
|The playground spinning saucer gets a lot of screen time in the movie.|
Not even his mother Sandy, played by Sigourney Weaver, sees Tim’s gift, despite her love for her son. Weaver does a deft job of portraying a middle-aged woman grappling with her own inner demons as she haphazardly tries to play the roles of domesticity and support. When Tim is found to be bullied at school, she storms the boy’s trailer, threatening his life, “You can tease, torture, punch, drive drunk with me, I can forgive you. Hell I can understand it, I’m a good Christian, you know, I can forgive and forget, but you mess with my kid and may God himself descend from heaven to protect you because as long as I live – and I will outlive you all – I will wake up and go to sleep at night just dreaming of ways to make your petty insignificant lives into hell on earth.” After flicking a paper cup into the mother’s face, she looks around the trailer and looking at them both, the kid and his stunned mother, comments, “nice trailer” and leaves as quickly as she came. Weaver scores in her ability to match gusto with visceral wit that is acid and witty.
And Tim’s father, played by Jeff Daniels, is blind to who his son is, treating him like a stranger, not telling his family that he took time off from the office, spending his days in the city park, listless, a carved out soul, and sleeping in Matt’s bed, tucked in with his high school letter jacket. Jeff Daniels does a superb job of making us believe that he can be both a bastard and lovable because we grow to see that even an inept father can show his love for his son. In an emotional scene, Tim confronts his father. Just when you think his dad is going to hit him, he grabs for him to embrace him. Not letting him go, he tells Tim, “I am your father and you’re are my son and I’m here okay but you’ve gotta talk to me. I don’t know how to do this by myself”. It is here at this moment in the film that a father tells his son, you have to tell me what’s going on inside of you, you have to tell me who you are; I want to know who you are. It is in this scene that the film reaches a cathartic moment, the visual movement from Tim, angry and alone, to his father embracing him as he breaks downs and weeps, revealing the emotions hidden beneath his shell. There is a sense of joy for Tim as he experiences this moment of cleansing with his dad, especially when you consider the mistreatment, manipulation, disregard, violence, and betrayal he has been dealt in the long year the film encompasses.
Dan Harris admits that Imaginary Heroes is a kind of Greek Tragedy where you “… begin with a single action, a single mistake - the 'original sin'. It is the seed from which the story grows …”. This is an aspect of drama that has not changed since ancient times, but rather projected into film as well onto stage, the cathartic nature of film to tell in the guise of a story the archetypal sins of our lives, the ‘original sins’ that we keep secret and do not allow to be purged. A film like Imaginary Heroes is just as excellent as the Greek plays in its ability to grow inside the human heart a seed in which a story can be told that is completely human and completely vibrant. I enjoy films that affirm that if we love someone, really love them, with our whole hearts – then that can really make a different – no matter how many warts, snags, obstacles there are. So. It will be interesting to see what Dan Harris has up his sleeve for us next time.
Written and Directed by Dan Harris
Written and Directed by Dan Harris
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Emile Hirsch, Jeff Daniels, Michelle Williams, with Kip Pardue.
111 minutes, Rated R for substance abuse, sexual content, language, and some violence.