Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch:
At the movies: 'Garden State,' 'The Village'

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 9, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

I’ve seen Zach Braff playing the character of Dr. John “J.D.” Dorian on NBC’s situation comedy Scrubs. I never thought he was much of an actor. Boy, was I wrong. With fine acting skill, Braff plays the main character Andrew “Large” Largeman in the delightful comic-drama Garden State. And to top it off, Braff wrote the lively script and directed the film with lots of originality.

Andrew awakens in his modernist L.A bedroom to a call from his father (Ian Holm) telling him that his mother has just died. So after nine years away from home Andrew returns to the New Jersey suburbs of New York City.

We know from a scene where he opened his medicine cabinet that Andrew has been highly medicated. From the earliest moments of the meeting of father and son we know there is a wall between them.

At his mother’s funeral Andrew meets the grave diggers who turn out to be old classmates. Peter Sarsgaard plays Andrew’s best friend with perfect slacker panache.

Severe headaches lead Andrew to a doctor’s office, where he meets a local girl named Sam (Natalie Portman). The new psychiatrist tells Andrew not to let his father, who is also a psychiatrist, to continue to prescribe drugs for Andrew. We then learn that Andrew has left his drugs at home in L. A. and wants to begin to feel again.

Andrew and Sam get together for some motorcycle rides on a rig belonging to Andrew’s grandfather. In the process we learn that Sam is lively, lovable and quirky. At the same time, Andrew tells Sam how as a child he pushed his mother and she fell and struck an open dish washer that led to her being paralyzed for the rest of her life. Andrew’s father has evidently heaped guilt on Andrew for the accident that changed the life of everyone in the family.

In the process of traveling through the suburbs of New Jersey we meet lively classmates who seem fairly happy in their rather ordinary lives. There are funny jokes about record albums, dogs, hamsters, silent Velcro®, and collecting Desert Storm souvenir cards.

Some of the individual scenes are starkly yet poignantly filmed. An aunt makes a shirt for Andrew out of the same material as new cloth wallpaper. Andrew blends in like he is wallpaper. One scene at a rich classmate’s home with the friends around a giant fireplace is reminiscent of the famous fireplace scenes in Citizen Kane.

The relationship between Andrew and Sam is beautifully portrayed. The ending shifts into a more traditional Hollywood ending, but the thought-provoking themes of the whole film overcome this weakness.

Natalie Portman, who began her career at age 12 in the 1994 gangster film The Professional, is top-notch as a wounded individual who understands Andrew and can help heal him. Ian Holm, who was so good as the coach in the classic Chariots of Fire, is a one-dimensional villain.

Garden State is an enjoyable film that goes deep into the human condition. The questions and layers of Garden State continue to haunt you days after you’ve seen it.

Garden State is rated R because of language, use of drugs and a scene of sexuality. The U.S. Bishops’ Office for Film & Broadcasting rates Garden State A-III – adults.


In his story "The Medal" Jesuit Anthony de Mello of East India writes, “Man finds himself alone and lost in the vast universe, and he is full of fears. Good religion makes him fearless. Bad religion increases his fears.”

M. Night Shyamalan continues his series of films that have deep and dark secrets in his recent movie The Village.

The story begins with a funeral in which a tombstone identifies the time of the film as the late 1890s. The scenery has the look of Pennsylvania. The people, by clothing and speech, seem to be living their lives on farms in the tradition of the Amish. It becomes clear early on that this village is a fairly unusual community where the color red is avoided and for some reason residents do not cross into the nearby woods for any reason.

Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) is a young man in his twenties who has a quiet style that appeals to a blind daughter Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) of the commune’s leader Edward Walker (William Hurt). Ivy also is beloved by a mentally handicapped Noah (Adrien Brody).

All of a sudden animals appear, skinned. The villagers head to shelters beneath their cottages as noises erupt and the warning bell is sounded. There seem to be many secrets among the elders of the community. Each home appears to have metal boxes with secret things within them.

Events get complicated so that Ivy is allowed by her father to traverse the forbidden woods in order to obtain medicines in a nearby town.

Her journey through the woods is supposed to be the scary set piece of the film. The practical problem is that quite a few of the secrets have been revealed by this time, so her journey loses a great deal of its thrills. So the final tricks and turns of The Village are less than satisfying.

If you feel movies today move too fast and jump-cut so fast you’re not sure what is happening, the good news about The Village is it moves very slowly. The postcard-like pictures at the beginning of the film also are memorable. A wedding scene with its vast outdoor banquet reminds one of the barn-building scenes in Peter Weir’s Amish-centered film Witness.

Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t talk much in this film, but when he talks he is excellent. The speech where he shyly declares his love for Ivy shows a moment of great acting.

Bryce Dallas Howard, the daughter of director Ron Howard, is wonderful as the blind young woman deeply in love with Lucius. She holds the film together.

As a story, The Village, in the end, falls apart. It might be wise for M. Night Shyamalan to lay off the thriller-with-a-trick-ending-genre for a while. Just a straight old drama might do him very well.

Anthony de Mello wasn’t speaking about films when he wrote of religion and fear. But The Village’s use of fear disappoints and envelopes the viewer in a sad “You’ve got to be kidding.”

The Village is rated PG-13 for frightening situations and a scene of violence. The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting rates The Village A-II – for adults and adolescents.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews frequently appear in the Cheney Free Press.)

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