US, 1998, 114 minutes, Colour.
Nick Nolte, James Coburn, Sissy Spacek, Willem Dafoe, Bridgid Tierney, Holmes Osborne, Jim True -Frost, Marian Seldes, Mary Beth Hurt.
Directed by Paul Schrader.
Affliction is a profound film about dysfunctional family, the oppression of alcoholic fathers and abusive fathers on children, the damaging repercussions in family as a consequence.
Nick Nolte is at the centre of the film as the abused son of James Coburn (in his Oscar-winning performance). Willem Dafoe appears briefly but provides voice-over for the narrative and explanations of what has happened in the family. The film has an excellent supporting cast including Sissy Spacek as Nolte’s girlfriend, Mary Beth Hurt as his ex-wife, Brigid Tierney as his alienated daughter and Jim True -Frost as his friend who is involved in the disappearance of a hunter.
Set in bleak New Hampshire locations (with Canada standing in for New Hampshire), the atmosphere and the weather give a tone to this very bleak film. With the title, Affliction, it could apply in different ways to all the characters in the film – and that is the intention of the writer-director Paul Schrader and of the author of the novel, Russell Banks. Russell Banks wrote a similarly bleak story, The Sweet Hereafter, filmed by Atom Egoyan the year before and winner of many awards. Paul Schrader was screenwriter for several of Martin Scorsese’s best films including Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Last Temptation of Christ. Schrader also directed a number of films himself including Blue Collar, Hard Core, Auto Focus, Mishima.
This is a film for adult audiences, gruelling for those who have experienced some of the hardships that the characters in the film experience.
1.The work of Russell Banks? The adaptation of the novel by Paul Schrader? Paul Schrader and his interests, human conflicts and suffering?
2.The New Hampshire settings, the town, the countryside, the forest, the bleak winter? The photos during the credits?
3.The sombre mood, the wintry mood for all the situations and characters? The musical score? Themes?
4.The title – and its reference to all of the characters? All of their afflictions?
5.Rolf, Willem Dafoe’s performance, narration? His focus on Wade, telling the stories, the audience having to test whether they were true or false? The father and his treatment of his sons? The flashbacks? Their mother? The present, Wade as the police inspector, the crime, the investigation? The sense of doom and tragedy?
6.Nick Nolte’s performance as Wade? Wade in himself, middle age, his experience? The marriage to Lillian, Jill as his daughter? Their alienation from him? Halloween and their being irked? The dance, going home? The divorce? Custody issues? Lillian and her stances? The lawyer? The funeral? Shame? The Big Mac, throttling? Wade alone?
7.Wade and his work, the policeman in the small town, his investigations? With Gordon? The role of the police, Jack, the friendship, going out on the hunt, the businessman, the shooting, his returning home alone? The suspicions, the theories? Rolfe and his theories? The confrontation? Gordon and his wife? The summons? Wade and his obsessions, Jack in the car, shooting the tyres? Gordon and the paranoia? The truth?
8.Margie, her age and experience, her love for Wade, talking for him, caring for him, his opening up to her? The relationship with Wade’s family, the visit to his father and the reaction? With Jill? The cold, the mother dying? Her growing puzzle about Wade? The paranoia and her leaving?
9.The portrait of Glen Whitehouse? The flashbacks, the adult men telling the stories? Glen’s harshness, drinking, his relationship with his wife, pushing her around, the abuse of the children? His cruelty? Physical and psychological? Later as an old man, his drinking? His being out of it? His wife’s death? The visit from Margie and his flirtatious behaviour? Alone in the house? Wade hiding the keys so that he wouldn’t drive and drink? The struggle with his son? Not tolerating weakness, no love? The funeral of his wife, his disbelief in God? His own death?
10.Rolfe and his life, the phone calls, the visit, not so much affected, not so much afflicted? His contribution to the paranoia? His blame? His father and his death?
11.The bar, the tender sequences, Margie and her work?
12.The range of townspeople, relating to Wade, relating to the Whitehouse family?
13.Wade, going berserk, his being sacked, the house sale and his reaction, the shooting of Jack, his disappearance?
14.The overall impact of the film, the performances, the situations? The bleakness and the pessimism?