‘the savages’ has a joke for a title, in that it implies we haven’t progressed much as a race since the prehistoric times when throwing bones in the air was the height of creativity, or even more recently, when the european medieval homicide rate was 50% in some places (you had a one in two chance of being murdered by someone you knew in the days of the black plague, the early inquisition, and orlando bloom’s inter-faith dialogue). ‘the savages’ is about siblings trying to care for the elderly father who didn’t treat them well, and whom they don’t like very much. in that sense, it is about living and dying, and, in the context of contemporary medical culture – which can keep people alive far longer than ever before, leading to the inevitable fact that one day, someone is going to have pull the plug. savage indeed. or at least potentially so.
there are dozens of movies about ‘dying well’ – from ‘stepmom’ to ‘terms of endearment’; and even though these have a reputation for over-egging the sentimentality, i don’t mind them that much. we all have to deal with the death of loved ones; this is hard enough without taking away the comfort that a ‘soft’ movie might bring to the bereaved. though, of course, in these movies debra winger and susan sarandon don’t exactly die like we do in real life.
‘the savages’ wants to present something more honest; and in philip seymour hoffman and laura linney’s brother and sister pair, and most especially philip bosco’s father, portrays a painful little play. these are characters with whom you sympathise, rather than like. they make bad decisions. they are self-centered. they have a little bit of heart. it feels like real life.
no magic solutions present themselves; but facing the death of a parent does in some sense help the children grow up, if only a little. and the movie ends with a motif that some may find grating, but i think is one of the most honestly life-affirming images in the movies.
read more of my film posts and the ongoing conversation with jett loe at the film talk website