Posts Tagged ‘Sissy Spacek’

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In The Bedroom – the one about acting

04/25/2012

Some films are about the fantastic.  The performances in them are based on the audience’s need for connection.  But in any drama there is a need for something else.  You might call it an artistic distance.  For films where the actors need to “become” the characters, there will always be something about the performance that is different, in an uncomfortable way.

Human beings have natural nuances that are less than flattering.  We don’t look, sound, or behave as “coolly” as characters on the big screen.  We snot, wince, and stutter.  Tom Cruise would never do that, would he?  After all, one of the great appeals of the cinema is that it can offer us “life with all the boring parts cut out,” as described by Martin Scorsese.  But what happens when we are thrust into the lives of those characters that share our negative qualities?

There is a certain hypnosis to empathy.  When we sense that someone like us is in a situation that seems possible to us, then we automatically project our sensibilities into their decisions, and participate with their life events.  All storytelling works on this principle.  And good actors will present their actions in a way that is conducive to this character/audience relationship.

The performances in In The Bedroom have that sort of hypnosis.  They draw you in with little subtleties.  The wandering eye-lines, stuttering dialog, and inconsistent intonations all serve to take the perception of intellect out of the action.  Real people are impulsive.  We rarely think about the little things we do.  Any heavily rehearsed action is easily discernable because of how clean and deliberate it is.

These actors have done away with any semblance of forethought.  Their instances of shock and romance have all the nuances of reality.  If you follow their eye-lines, you can see their realizations.  It is easy to participate in these characters decisions, precisely because these nuances feel so real.  The reactions they have are as close of a representation of what we might be like in that situation as I can imagine.

Posture and blocking is a big part of all this.  We follow the little head bobs and fist clenches.  These little actions represent the tracking marks for the Audience Bond.  The plot offers these characters only a handful of major choices for the audience to participate in, but the little blocking moments fill in the gaps.  You can tell a lot about these characters based on where they’re looking.

In one scene between Tom Wilkinson’s character, Doctor Fowley, and a Prosecuting Attorney, we are given very deliberate close-ups of what the doctor is looking at.  He doesn’t seem to be listening to what the lawyer says.  Instead he is distracted by the lawyer’s nonchalant mannerisms, such as the way he plays with his car keys.

Another example is when Mr. and Mrs. Fowley have their big fight in the kitchen.  She focuses her physical attention on the dishes, inputting a few harsh critiques of her husband’s apparent lack of mourning.  He starts to leave the room, but is brought back in by the insult.  As he slowly loses his patience, he investigates what she meant by her remark.  At this, she smashes her plate on the floor and runs out of the room.  The physical beat marks a change in dramatic tone and shifts action to a new location.

The motions give us a sense of subtext.  Is she leaving because she can’t stand her husband?  Or is it because she she’s hiding from something.  This particular instance in the story is probably caused by the subconscious need for revenge.  In their case, the need is unsatisfied by the courts, and they are unable to see the punishment of their enemy.  Is it possible that they replace that enemy with each other?  Perhaps the insults they throw at each other are coming from this need for vindication.  They can’t punish the real criminal, so the punish each other.

The audience is involved in all of this.  We are sympathetic to both sides, and even empathetic to them as well.  As the characters proceed through their grief, we share their search for answers.  And at the end of it all, we may not understand why we are in this place, but at least we have some satisfaction by joining in the character’s need for revenge.

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