#shapiroreport, #moviereview, #livingthings
May 5, 2014
There is something dark about "Living Things" that benefits from the idea of meat and flesh. This is made significant in the film when Leo, the father-in-law, attempts to murder Rhona, the yoga teacher, who is also his daughter-in-law. Leo says, “I’m not like everyone else. I have this drive.” He is talking about having a job while being a sexagenarian, and about having the truth.
“Living Things” seems to be made in the tradition of the philosophical French films circa 1968. The difference is that in a film like “La Maman et la Putain” (The Mother and the Whore), the conversation is light and natural. Silences, pauses and breath are equally important to its pace. But here the script is laden with punch lines. Too much unpacking is required. In this one way the film’s literary influence, or essay style, is intrusive. Leo describes his recent heart attack in a literary way by borrowing from Hemingway’s short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro: “It was like an elephant on my chest.” “Living Things” will sometimes feel like that.
A key moment in the film comes with the second turning point. The second turning point is like a buoy in the ocean; made all the more important in “Living Things”, because it is a film made of a single, monolithic conversation. And since this is not the cinematic grammar that an audience is used to, it can be difficult to assimilate. The statement from Leo that plants have feelings too, seems to be the ultimate revelation of a truth that is not ideal, but pragmatic. Mainly we can’t subsist without hurting something. Rhona responds that nine hundred people have mentioned the argument that plants have feelings. But so what? Where is her counter argument? And Leo instead of sealing the deal--not that this would settle the issue in the real world--announces that he will be the one to break her. This is the same thing Leo does in the final violent scene, when he tries to finish his daughter off by punching her. No person dies from a punch, but they can die from being chocked, which he was already doing and exceeding at. So the fact that he changed the severity of the attack, when the attack and the climatic action of the film were in ascension does not come off very cohesive, and neither do Leo’s closing argument skills.