This film explores a sense of numbness, for a lack of a better way to put it. Be it because of isolation, drugs, or because you put logic over emotion. Which I’m probably not selling that well, but believe me when I say it is worth seeing this.
Trigger Warning(s): Self-Harm (Burning one’s self), Blood (minor), and Drug Use (injecting)
Characters & Story (with Commentary)
The knot which binds everyone in the movie is Professor Walter (Sam Waterston). A man who has been, for 34 years, teaching philosophy, and generally can be considered a nice guy. However, while his life is simple, and without much drama, such cannot be said for one of his students, his children, nor two men he meets on the night he is violently stabbed. Which, just so you know, isn’t that huge of a spoiler for it happens within the first 10 minutes.
With that said, let’s talk about some of the people who come in and out of Walter’s life. The first and perhaps one of the most interesting would be Sophie (Kristen Stewart). A character which is perfect for Stewart for they are in misery due to loneliness, among other things, and it really seems she is in her element with this character. Which isn’t a dig at Stewart, but she really seems to be speaking from the heart to the point of bringing you to tears.
After Sophie, the next big story comes from Joe (K. Todd Freeman). He is a heroin addict, one which we don’t really get to see fall from grace, but you can tell something went horribly wrong somehow. But his friend Jeffrey (Michael K. Williams) tries to get him into rehab, while he kicks and screams.
Leaving the two family oriented stories in which one deals with Walter’s son Adam (Tim Blake Nelson), who is dealing with a wife who might have cancer, and two teenagers, as well as Sam (Corey Stoll) who is having an affair. Which are two stories not strongly worth going into, if only because they are the two weaker ones of the film.
The first of the two big highlights of the film for me were Stewart’s scenes with Waterston and Joe’s story. For Stewart, as noted in the summary, she seems in a character which is comfortable for her. To the point, every line seems like it could come straight from her mouth in conversation. But, rather than seem arrogant or something similar, you can tell every word is coming from a person who is hurting. Someone who craves interaction but can’t find a way to fulfill the need. Which, depending on where you are in life, could become so relatable that it can bring you to tears.
The second big highlight was Joe. Now, let me admit that there are some things in Joe’s story which I wish had more detail. For one, his fall from grace isn’t gone into. Making it so seeing him at rock bottom leave a gaping hole of what happened? But considering he is friends with Jeffrey, and how it is spoken he went to college and was being floated by his father, needless to say, he associated with people who have money. Making him being a strung out addict sometimes sad and hard to watch.
Last major thing worth noting are the speeches Walter has as a professor. Now, I through my years of college, and high school never had the type of teacher who gave awe-inspiring speeches. Making listening to Walter make me think I should have gone to a better college so I could maybe experience someone like him in real life. For while philosophy isn’t the type of subject I’m heavily into, the way he speaks on things is so poetic that I think for a semester I could go for another round of school. Also, in general, that character is so quote worthy that I would have to write paragraphs to give you some of his best lines.
When it comes to Sam and Adam’s stories, and their wives, I honestly felt like they were far too weak in comparison to Joe and Sophie. With Sam, his issue is he just did the logical steps of dating to marriage to children, without it seeming like it was something he wanted to do. If anything, he got comfortable and figured why not. Leading to his wife being unhappy, his kids seeing it, and him having an affair. All of which isn’t that interesting to watch, though not horrible to watch either.
Then, when it comes to Adam, a part of me was more so interested in his children’s storylines than his wife having a cancer scare. Be it because a part of me wants to see a teen’s point of view when it comes to dealing with such things, or just because neither Adam nor Jill (Jessica Hecht) seemed worth keeping in your thoughts once they were no longer featured on screen.
On The Fence
When it comes to Sam, as well as Adam, a part of me felt their storylines paled in comparison to Sophie and Joe’s. Be it because Sophie and Joe had more self-destructive storylines, or because Adam and Sam’s family drama just couldn’t compare.
Speaking specifically, for Sam I found myself slightly interested in his wife’s Sarah’s (Gretchen Mol) story, especially because with Sam happy with his mistress it left me torn who to root for. But it never reaches an interesting enough point where I fall in love with the idea of Sam and his mistress, or him and Sarah, and while Sam and Sarah’s oldest daughter is a bit of a spitfire, she isn’t featured enough to be considered truly relevant. Plus, considering Sam doesn’t have a strong tie to Walter, besides finding him stabbed, it really pushes the idea his story is just thrown in there and not truly essential.
As for Adam, while being Walter’s son gives him some relevancy, and his wife Jill (Jessica Hecht) maybe having cancer does bring some sort of interest his way, as the movie goes on even the introduction of his son losing his virginity, and daughter trying to deal with complicated emotions dealing with her mom maybe having cancer, can’t save their storyline. For, once again, in comparison to the two more graphic, and performance based storylines, it is hard to take much note of Adam’s family’s problems.
Final Thought(s): Worth Seeing
I have never been a huge fan of these multiple stories all tying in with one type of films. However, what makes this one good is I think, when it comes to Sophie and Joe, enough is given to make you get emotionally invested in them. Then, when it comes to Walter, while all we get from his is he is a good teacher and husband, damn if his speeches, and his kindness doesn’t present a rare thing in film. Said rare thing being, knowing the end of the character, and having the build toward that moment become heart wrenching.
For really, 9 times out of 10, when a movie presents the end of the film, or a character’s life, at the beginning of the movie, usually the build toward that final moment isn’t done well enough for you to care. With Walter though, he makes that rare exception. To the point where you are so badly wishing that it isn’t over for him, despite all signs pointing to it being so.
Leaving perhaps the only blemishes being Adam and Sam’s stories. Which, as noted at least 3 or 4 times at this point, aren’t bad, just their quality in comparison to Joe’s and Sophie’s can’t be compared. Yet, despite that note, honestly if they got the screen time Joe and Sophie did, I think they could really have something there.
Hence the Worth Seeing label for 3/5 of the film’s major storylines are top notch, and the two which aren’t only suffer because of comparison.