IN THE BEDROOM is like this directly intimate state of union that leads two people to not only share a bed to sleep in but extends itself to the private chambers in which they negotiate loss and an inverted moral compass in the wake of a loved one’s sudden death. A death which comes with no clear forewarning except concern wrought by the parents towards a child who often takes their experience and wisdom for granted. In the film, the title alludes to a technique for catching crabs while at sea but is actually a haunting moral one about the manner in which two people unravel when locked in the same space.
Here, the marital space hence becomes the fertile ground for exploring grief through the prism of a middle aged couple, a demographic that is often neglected in cinematic portrayals. Playing a middle class music teacher and a doctor based in Camden, Maine respectively, SISSY SPACEK and TOM WILKINSON are note perfect in their collective internalizations. Through their teeming sense of pain that gets augmented with each passing day, they ably show the individual alienation that is common to people in their fifties when the fear of children leaving them becomes manifold. Death of a child then truly signifies an end of the road ; a long – winding road in which the younger ones are nurtured and held as parallels to the adults’ past experiences and lifetime of evolution .
In IN THE BEDROOM, given the earnest core of loss, Silence operates as a theme in itself, unfolding in a languorous whole for this middle aged couple . Very soon, it becomes a silence tantamount to grief and repressed anger that envelops them and in turns the whole town and community by the final lap . That hollow centre extends itself to the sound design and cinematography as well.
Courtesy first time director Todd Field, IN THE BEDROOM has a fluid beginning rich with bright colours and scenes of nonchalance, none as unmistakable as the American tradition of an outdoor summer barbeque party that begins the screenplay.
Actually, it begins with a wide angle shot of a serene meadow and two lovers ( Marisa Tomei and Nick Stahl) in thrall. The narrative ends with the same sense of calm, with the far away shot of the town and the bay . Eventually, the bright summer makes way for the bluesy shades of monsoon and the cold realization that an only child of an innately respectable couple is no more. Dynamics change and get absolutely polarized. So there are singular arcs to the whole emotional turnaround.
Long shots help in not breaking the continuous impact of emotions felt at a particular moment. Assured editing adds to the gravity of love and loss, affecting everyone, even the couple’s best friends consisting of another couple of many years ( Celia Weston and William Wise) who know what it means to lose a child themselves.
IN THE BEDROOM essentially employs a frame narrative where the lead couple’s unraveling is tied with their son’s love for an older woman ; his untimely death propels their personal stories to an emotional dead end even as his killer( William Mapother) , happening to be the abusive former husband of the single mother and son’s love interest, walks around with impunity and clout. This happening then traces the dark clouds that apprehend a 360 degree turn for the tale and the investment of the bereaved parents.
There is a heavy weight of the conscience. Lives change in an instant and the tell-tale signs behind a reality creates uneasy ripples.
Naturally, their collective grief leads to a heated confrontation; the burden of blame, years of repressed anger make their presence felt here . It is this extended moment where the actual manifestation of grief pushes them both towards unlikely moral detours. It is intrinsically linked with a warped idea of retribution for a child’s death that is so brutally honest as an emotion.
The final shot inflects the whole town and community in this secret churning of two people. As if the places we live in and frequent are all passive eyewitnesses. Our souls mirror the real, active collateral chain of guilt and hollowness that we feel.
As the spouses share the bed, the silences surround them, with the question, ‘did you do it?’ hanging in the dead air. It has the slithery quality of letting the cold, hard fact sink in that taking the law into one’s hands hardly ensures permanent closure.
The haunting question remains how the one committing crime is let off the hook and the one who has always abided by the law and seeks to bring a perpetrator to justice can still exercise a heavy moral shift when he leaves his comfort zone . Rationality goes out of the window when basic human impulses feed on seething anger and a natural urge to protect one’s offspring comes to hinder every decision. The law manipulates the suffering family’s grief in its own way, citing clauses in the rulebook and other legal loopholes. IN THE BEDROOM looks at the cumulative debris that gets deposited at the threshold when all of these facts collide. Grave injustices fuel another drastic step. Something hardens.
This realistic approximation haunts our souls. As if the ghosts of humanity had been let loose in the four corners and wandered around desolate stretches of people unable to come to terms with their realities, altered by fate and a stray bullet.
The performers all rise to the occasion and the direction looks at life in a grey zone. A week and a half after watching it, IN THE BEDROOM still haunts me with its images, especially close ups of both spouses and the figuratively empty home is captured from close quarters. It affects me because there are countless parents who are forced to opt for similar actions as the one shown here when law and order fails them.
The heart of the matter is that grief begets bigger changes in all of us. Every sequence here, be it one of the husband’s friends reciting a solemn poem, the priest comforting the wife with a mystical image or the rendition of a Balkan tune, is attuned to the silent broil of helpless souls forced to go to the extreme edge of a precipice. Sometimes, it is the only option left beyond mere judgements.