Although the plot is improbable and the dialogue seems at first blush overwritten – think again. It you let this film wash you away, you’ll be mesmerized and moved. It’s really a lovely film.
Filmed on location above Taos, New Mexico the scenery is naturally spectacular. The Groden family lives off the grid (off the map) in the late seventies, subsisting on their own grown food, or small game killed. Eleven year old Bo (Valentina de Angelis) narrates the film as ‘their’ story – as an adult, years after the events. Her mother, wonderfully played by Joan Allen) is the glue that holds the family together, since the father (Sam Elliott) has been in a deep depression for months. When an fledgling IRS agent finds them to audit for unpaid taxes (they make less than $5,000 per year), things begin to change – not only for the Grodens, but for the IRS agent, played by Jim True-Frost.
The agent, William Gibbs, discovers himself in the process and begins to paint as an outlet for self-expression. He paints for young Bo, who has never been anywhere other than the high desert of New Mexico. When she asks if he’s ever seen an ocean, he tells her about the Atlantic and the horizon. The result is a 31-foot long scroll of the horizon on the Atlantic coast, which he tacks up around her room, so she is surrounded by the horizon of sea and sky.
William Gibbs’ first painting was twenty inches high and thirty-one feet wide, one foot shy of the perimeter of my room. The dimensions suited the subject, the ocean’s horizon. He hung it so that when I lay on my bed, I could stare out fourteen miles to the horizon any way I looked. Encircled by water, I would turn and float on my back, arms outstretched, chin up, and feel in the small of my back the rounded curve of the planet, supporting me like a buoy. Like faith.
The actual painting was done by New Mexico artist Stan Berning. Click here to view it.
There’s an amazing closing sequence as young B0 is picked up by a school bus for her first day of public school, which morphs into a bus returning her as an adult, which further morphs into her musing on the painting which now hangs in a gallery
I have of late been pondering that painting. It has struck me to view the ocean as the past, the sky as the future, and the present as that thin, precarious line where both meet. Precarious because as we stand there, it curves under foot, ever changing.
The scene morphs one final time into the extended family together, with the mother reading a passage from Two Years Before The Mast.
Directed by Campbell Scott (who also co-directed another film I loved: the Stanley Tucci vehicle Big Night). Joan Ackermann (a former writer for Arli$$), scripted from her play.