Life as a House

Life as a House movie posterEvery once in a while a film comes along that connects with us for absolutely no reason that we can tell.  Maybe we had a bad day or spent too long reminiscing with old photographs and our emotions are dangerously close to the surface. Maybe we miss someone or lost contact with someone dear and can’t think of how to make contact again.  Perhaps there is something to be said for sentimentalism, for the pluck of heart-strings that give us pause, however uncomfortably.

Life As A House was a quiet film when it was release in 2001 and left theaters much as it had entered.  It did not make a profit or win notable awards of much merit.  You won’t find it on niche lists for best or most memorable; yet there is substance to this story that reaches out to you, a gentle wrapper for her characters, a cocoon that allows us a glimpse in at something beautiful, tragic and fleeting.  The premise is familiar enough; a good person struggling to do the right things is struck down by illness, fights the good fight but ultimately, silently succumbs.  Those left behind are spurred to action and with no amount of certainty, persevere, better for having had a chance at something immeasurable than going on the way they were.

Sanford Meisner said of acting, “it is the ability to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances” and to that end, Life As A House is keenly aware.  There are a great many films that come to mind that adhere to this principle, exploring what moves us and what is familiar.  William Hurt as the egotistical surgeon who is forced by an illness to face his demons and is forever changed by the encounter (The Doctor, 1991). Philip Seymour Hoffman as Wilson Joel, a strikingly sparse, emotionally torn character study of a man facing the aftermath of his wife’s suicide and the note she left behind (Love Liza, 2002). Michael Keaton as Bob Jones, a business man with everything to live for, including a troubled childhood, who discovers he’s dying and sets out to put his life in order (My Life, 1993). There are countless others.  We return to these tragedies, in the tradition of Aristotle, because they serve the purpose of purging the soul of the “fear and pity” which most of us carry around (Aristotle called this Catharsis).  Good movies intent to reflect life, to capture it up like the glimmer of sun upon the surface of the ocean, and guide it toward us with reasonable facsimile to our own trials and tribulations, triumphs and failures.  It is in this way that we appreciate that which is so readily taken for granted; namely the lovely and the sublime.

As difficult as it is for mainstream audiences to come to terms with the idea, dying has every bit as much to do with living as anything does.  Children become adults and adults grow older, gather wisdom with every season, age, wither and die.  There is no chance at a different ending in this lifetime, none other than what we are allotted.  Perhaps the thought of dying is less frightening if we pretend it were but a gentle, restful respite from living.

At the end of Life As A House there is finality but as in all things, life begins there.  It might be easier to dismiss yet another sad story and how the weight of emotion stifles, like air returning to a room that has been closed off to the world.  But the message isn’t the only matter of importance here.  What matters is what we bring and take away from the film, how we are affected or not affected is what elevates ordinary movies.  In the end, George Monroe (Kevin Kline) slips away, a tiny seedling planted in fertile soil, left to blossom as feelings sometimes do.  There is a quiet intensity to his passing, to this story; a sadness that will not sit well with everyone.  Still, these are the kinds of stories that we all know a little too well and are reluctant to share until they surface from time to time in cinema, and give back what we’ve known all along.


About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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4 Responses to Life as a House

  1. Rodney says:

    Awesome review of an awesome film, Rory. I remember being put off initially by the inclusion of Anakin Skywalker in this film, but Hayden isn’t actually too bad!! Kevin Klien out-acts everybody else, and I’m a little disappoint that he hasn’t been in too many films of late. Sombre, uplifting, encouraging: Life As A House is a beautiful film. I applaud your words to the same!

    • rorydean says:

      Thanks Rodney! I was actually a little hesitant to allow my emotions to dictate the tone and pitch of this review but later, after rereading it to my wife, I realized there are a lot of reviews in my library that demand such a treatment – so much less about popularity or public opinion, not about awards and box office receipts, but about the connection we sometimes make with a piece of art and how it informs, inspires, and affects us in ways that are very often unquantifiable but deep down we feel it. I’ve had some very personal connections with films that resonate and reach out from my subconscious from time to time, whispering words of encouragement or understanding and for me, at that level, films are at their best and most cherished. And then we need films like Alien 1 & 2, the first two Terminators, Black Hawk Dawn, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, etc., etc., the kind of films that allow us connections but equally slap them aside with explosions, aliens, gun fire, and archetypes to save the hour and half out of our day from everything else. Cinema. I thought Cinema-therapy was a good idea but I think it completely misses the mark of what I’m describing.

  2. CMrok93 says:

    You did like this a lot more than me, but hey that’s a bad thing! It’s a good tearjerker that does well with the cast it’s given, and although it could have been a bit better, I still liked this. Nice post, thanks for the comment on my site.

    • rorydean says:

      I think from time to time I get into my ‘sentimental’ mood and and lends itself to less criticism of films. I often review what others have written (either during my research or after writing my article) and am amazed at how different my views were/are. Caught five minutes of Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead last night. WTF? Maybe, just maybe it was supposed to be campy, silly even, but really? With nearly character played by a top actor (then or now) I was blown away to find it had a 53% rating at rottentomatoes. Just goes to show you opinions are like…cheers

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