Monday, May 5, 2008

The Realism of THE SAVAGES

No matter how much we don't want to believe it, our physical bodies will someday succumb to aging and exhaustion. I'm a firm believer it doesn't always have to be this way, that as long as you maintain a youthful disposition, mental power can overcome any physical capabilities. But then, I'm also 24 years-old, and my outlook is likely to change, no matter how much I don't want it to.

"The Savages" a darkly comic drama that manages to find hope and humor amidst one of life's toughest ordeals: caring for a dying parent. When your parents die, I imagine a part of you feels like you die too. No matter how good or bad a parent your mother or father was, knowing they're gone probably induces a sense of loneliness.

For anyone who's ever been a witness to anyone close to them steadily declining in health, "The Savages" will ring all too familiar. The film teaches us a lesson that could have only been taught by someone who went through a similar experience as its sad characters. The writer and director is Tamara Jenkins, who must have nurtured the screenplay out of a real-life ordeal. While much of the film is very funny, Jenkins tells it straight from the heart, and that makes it special.

Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman play Wendy and Jon Savage, a sister and brother who learn, rather suddenly, their father is showing signs of dementia. Like many of life's tragedies, such news couldn't come at a more inopportune time (is there ever an opportune time to learn your father has dementia?).

Several scenes go into detail about what it takes to care for the elderly, including one on an airplane when Wendy flies with her father. We see how something so simple becomes a major production. Larry first needs a wheelchair, and then two members of the airport staff must strap him into another chair and wheel him to his seat. Larry then screams for the bathroom, all while Wendy receives dirty looks and stares from the other passengers. Eventually, this leads to one of the film's most heartbreaking shots that had me dreading ever being in Wendy's position yet giving her my complete sympathy.

"The Savages" is simply sad. What it shows is the inevitable and depressing truth that people eventually grow old and sometimes apart. Yes, we keep visiting our friends and family members because we love them, but we must also admit it's because we feel obligated. The film doesn't simply capture this fact of life; it shows it in a completely unaffected way. It's also true emotion, and never falsely presented.

All the people, situations and events in "The Savages" are grounded in stark realism and generate a grand, yet genuine, emotional impact. It's further proof the most powerful films are those with truth at their center. That truth isn't always easy to watch and accept, but it's what we respond to.

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