The Door in the Floor
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The Door in the Floor

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I’ve always felt that a story, whether in print or film, should evoke an emotional response from the audience. As such, the emotions brought out need always be positive ones, repulsion, disgust and hatred are valid emotional response for any story teller. This came to mind while watching The Door in the Floor, there are no clear cut heroes or villains here, the people at the center of the story are, to say the least, extremely messed up. Ted (Jeff Bridges) is a somewhat famous writer and illustrator of children’s books. He failed as an author of adult fiction after three novels and as he so often puts it, ‘I’m just an entertainer of children that likes to draw’. His wife Marion (Kim Basinger) is a shell of a woman. Some years ago their two teenaged sons died in a tragic traffic accident, an unfortunate defining moment in the relationship between Ted and Marion. They now have moved to the more laid back community of East Hampton and have a four year old daughter, Ruth (Elle Fanning). The three together are about as far from a Norman Rockwell family as possible. The parents are entering into a ‘trail separation’, while Ruth is an intelligent child obsessed with the numerous photographs of her deceased brothers that line the main hallway. Having lost his license for drunken driving Ted hires a young, aspiring writer Eddie. His main function appears to be driving Ted to and from his adulterous liaison with Mrs. Vaughn (Mimi Rogers). Meanwhile, Marion discovers that Eddie (Jon Foster), 16 and in the bloom of youth, full of teen age hormones, is infatuated with her and begins to have an affair with him.

As life often does this film meanders quiet a bit. It is a portrait of two people that still love each other but due to the circumstances life has brought no longer can stand to be together. They are haunted by their sons’ deaths, Marion unable to love her daughter as she should, afraid to love and lose that love again. Ted goes beyond just having extramarital affairs, he need to degrade the women he is with. This film is a powerful character study, its just the characters are unusually dark with little joy in their worlds. There is a seedy nature to the people in this film. Eddie was hired because he strongly resembled one of the dead sons, bringing an incestuous aspect to his affair with Marion. Ruth seems to know on some level that she was a ‘replacement child’ obsessed with the images of her dead brothers. While so much of the film had overtly revolting context I found I couldn’t turn away. Ultimately the film works in the context it took on, the display of a highly dysfunctional group of people.

When the characters presented in a film are basically so un-relatable to the audience it is of vital importance for the cast to have the acting chops to pull it off. Fortunately, this cast is more than up to the challenge. At first I thought that this was one of the lesser performances by Jeff Bridges, I had to reevaluate this as the story progressed. It was a strong performance of a weak and flawed character. Bridges usually plays to type as the likeable, somewhat mischievous guy, the Dude from The Big Lebowski. Here he gives Ted a full measure of human frailties. Bridges is one of those actors that embody every role he takes on. Here he is scruffy, often far too naked yet I was drawn to watching his presentation. Kim Basinger is a classic beauty with enduring talent. She does not take the role of Marion in the typical direction, the wronged wife. Bassinger balances her beauty with a vulnerability and emotional distance that is captivating. The two together on the screen are something rare in movies, a display of real talent. Jon Foster does very well as the young man in the middle of this family’s problems. At first it is a teenage boy’s fantasy, being introduced to sex by a beautiful older woman. Soon it turns horribly wrong as he finds himself in the middle of something he is emotionally unprepared to cope with. Foster projects the proper mix of strange emotions to sell his part. The real star here is Elle Fanning. Like her extremely talented sister Dakota, both girls are in the single digit ages with more talent than most adults. Fanning is the one endearing and sympathetic character and she commands her role perfectly.

This is the first high profile film for director Tod Williams. The man has talent and I greatly look forward to his subsequent efforts. With his cinematographer Terry Stacey they juxtapose incredibly beautify scenery with the tumult of this family. There is a slow pacing to the film, no rush to force the audience into this world. The most important piece of exposition is held to a big reveal at the end of the movie instead of being used to drive the story in a forced fashion. The camera work is inventive, the dialogue coming from a character that is out of focus while the camera studies the reaction of the other person. In one scene the frame is outlined by a partially opened window. This film will be ruined when it is shown in pan and scan. Williams makes full use of the frame. He also uses muted colors to reflect the somber tone of the tale being told. It takes a talent director/screen writer to get an audience to watch people such as this and Williams does it.

The DVD is very well done. The Dolby 5.1 audio and anamorphic 2.35:1 video is excellent. The extras include a commentary track by Williams and the production team. Like most new directors the emphasis is on the more technical nature of the process. There is a featurette detailing how the first third of John Irving’s novel, A Window for One Year. The typical making of featurette is present as well as an anatomy of a scene. While this is a somewhat difficult film to watch it is well crafted and worthwhile. True, its not for everybody but for those open to a darker look at human nature it is a winner.

Posted 12/11/04

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