In the Bedroom (2001)
Written by Todd Field & Robert Festinger
Directed by Todd Field
The bedroom is the rear compartment of a lobster trap and is designed to hold two lobsters before turning on each other. A lobster fisher must check their traps regularly lest multiple animals get caught in the bedroom and begin tearing each other’s claws off. In the same scene that we learn this, we are also told that when a female lobster is “growing berries,” i.e., carrying eggs, she becomes the most fearsome type of lobster.
Frank Fowler (Nick Stahl) has recently graduated college and has come for the summer to Camden, Maine, staying with his parents, Matt and Ruth (Tom Wilkinson & Sissy Spacek). Frank ends up falling in love with Natalie (Marisa Tomei), an older woman in the middle of a divorce with two children. Frank and Natalie seem to be good together, and he loves her kids, so Matt is okay with it. On the other hand, Ruth feels that the relationship is holding Frank back from continuing his education as an architect. Another problem for the romance is Natalie’s estranged husband Richard (William Mapother), who it’s implied has abused his wife in front of his children. These tensions come to a head and create the inciting incident of the film, which spirals Matt & Ruth into dark, unknown territory.
I decided in the wake of my Kubrick series this would be a great time to look at Todd Field’s two movies. Field worked on Eyes Wide Shut‘s production and cites the director as a significant influence on his own work. You can easily see Field in that movie as he plays Nick Nightingale, the pianist. In the Bedroom is most certainly a first-time feature with its rough edges showing a bit, but still, for a debut, it is reaching for a very high mark. Field is highly adept in using his camera and finds moments to track characters through rooms of a house or to float between singing teenage girls at a concert recital.
The movie is haunted by unspoken regret. The Fowlers find themselves regretting that they only had one child. Matt is accused of lusting after Natalie and getting off on Frank’s hot & heavy relationship with the woman. He never denies this but instead tries to spit his own accusations back at Ruth. Their relationship is the core of the movie, and it opens up the themes & ideas Field is interesting in exploring. Matt is presented as a softer man; he’s a medical doctor which gives him wealth that slightly elevates him above his more working-class friends. Frank is pulled in by the allure of lobster fishing, and when Matt attempts this on his own, he gets injured. On the other hand, Ruth presents a subtle hardness, she is more volatile, her anger simmering under the surface all the time. They approach situations in ways that nuanced and different so that resentment grows silently between them.
The second act of In the Bedroom is beautifully quiet, just sitting in its grief, letting characters pass each other by with heads down. This absence of speech is so vital to the film, shrouding us in the mental pain of this family. The question of revenge rears its head at the close of the second act, and Field presents it to us with little contemplation of the aftermath. That’s where he gets the audience, lulling us into this sense of justice and then the final moments. The darkness of a bedroom on a late summer night. The empty rooms of a big old house. A wife asking her husband a minor question. Her husband lays in the dark, removing a band-aid and hoping it’s healed.