Door in the Floor
Tod Williams, USA, 2004
Posted: August 14,
What if a couple, upon losing a child (or in this case two sons, ages 17
and 15), has another baby to help with the healing process -- and then finds
itself incapable of raising this child born of grief? Tod Williams' The
Door in the Floor explores this unsettling and fascinating question, not
to mention a host of other issues. And while it loses its footing along the
way, it still proves an absorbing and sobering look at the destructive power
tragedy holds over its survivors.
Adapted from the first part of John Irving's hefty novel A Widow for One
Year, The Door in the Floor tracks the last few months of a rocky
marriage. Despite living apart, Ted and Marion Cole (Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger) attempt to coexist amicably for the sake of their four-year-old
daughter Ruth (Elle Fanning). Ruth is obsessed with a collection of
photographs of the couple's two dead sons that hang throughout the house.
She creates stories that occur before and after the images were captured,
fabricating memories of two siblings she never knew. Ted occupies his time
by throwing himself into his work (he's a successful author of illustrated
children's books). He also sleeps around and exhausts himself in his
personal cathartic-release chamber-cum-homebuilt squash court. Marion,
meanwhile, is the polar opposite: non-engaged, a ghost of a woman, seemingly
incapable of reacting to another living being.
And then Eddie (Jon Foster), an introspective, 16-year-old prep-school
student and wannabe writer, enters the family's life. Eddie's presumptive
role is to act as Ted's assistant for the summer. What he really is,
however, is the audience's surrogate -- our connection to these damaged
characters, the plot device by which we get to know them better. And, boy,
does Eddie ever get to know them. He learns of Ted's philandering with lusty
Mrs. Vaughn (Mimi Rogers), who "poses" for Ted's figure sketches. Marion
becomes his masturbatory object of affection and, eventually, his lover.
Eddie also bears and uncanny resemblance to one of the couple's sons, and
it's obvious Ted has been manipulating the entire situation hoping to both
heal Marion and, more insidiously, place her in a compromising situation
should a custody battle over Ruth ever occur. (Apparently her one
indiscretion will cancel out his numberless multitude.)
Jeff Bridges should clear off space on his mantle come awards season; his
work here is phenomenal and will certainly not go unnoticed. The veteran
actor manages to bring the right amount of creative buoyancy and bitter
resignation to Ted, a man with a severe God complex who's lost his moral
compass. He has a daughter he spoils but doesn't know how to raise (thank
goodness for nannies); he whores around but is incapable of truly being
intimate with anyone. And inspiration is harder to come by -- he gets
progressively little writing done, although he does produce a prolific
collection of charcoal sketches detailing the female anatomy. And his
recounting to Eddie of how his boys died is a heartbreaking study in
masterfully executed craft.
Kim Basinger, meanwhile, does all she can with a character that never really
changes. She has a sexual affair with Eddie, but it doesn't liberate her
from her emotional cocoon. By the end of the film, she's just as lost and
dispirited as she is at the beginning. As for Eddie, he leaves perhaps a
little wiser (not to mention no longer a virgin), his purpose duly served as
our ingress into the wounded heart of the Cole family. As for poor Ruth,
well, she'll be materially well-off, but little more than a phantom herself,
a byproduct of a doomed couple's last attempt at reconciliation.
Williams does a solid job of fleshing out these interpersonal dynamics, but
he falters by trying to insert silly humor into an otherwise downbeat piece,
as when Mrs. Vaughn is spurned by Ted and tries to run him down in her car
or when Ted's salacious drawings pick the most inopportune time to slap
across a car's windshield.
The film doesn't need such cheap or contrived sight gags to be effective, and Williams
should have excised them and focused exclusively on what does work: a
couple, their daughter, and the young man who opens the door in the floor
and exposes the darkest aspects of their lives.
design copyright © 2001-2011 Shaking Through.net. All original artwork,
photography and text used on this site is the sole copyright of the respective creator(s)/author(s). Reprinting, reposting, or citing any of the original
content appearing on this site without the written consent of Shaking
Through.net is strictly forbidden.