Julianne Moore finds her Mama's boy in Savage Grace.
A Son and Lovers makes for a disturbing un-mellow-drama mama
By John Esther
Fifteen years ago director Tom Kalin swooped up a name for himself in the world of independent cinema with his debut hit, Swoon.
Based on the true story of Nathan Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb, two lovers who killed a 14-year-old boy to prove a quasi-Nietzschain theory they clearly did not understand, Swoon became a darling to independent filmgoers for its refreshing esthetics and a devil to some members of the GLBT community who feared this true story would be used as ammunition for anti-GLBT organizations. It turned out nobody outside of the independent film world cared. The debate was relegated to the fringe.
If people were paying as much attention to his long awaited follow-up to Swoon, the appropriately titled Savage Grace, the same flattery for and friction against this film could be made.
Based on the book by Natalie Robins with a screenplay by Howard A. Rodman, Savage Grace recounts the true story of one family whose money gave them more freedom than they could handle. Barbara Daly (Julianne Moore, the current queen of tragic mothers/wives in film – especially those made by queer filmmakers) was a bourgeois social climber who grabbed the mother lode (not for the last time, either) when she married Brooks Baekeland (Stephen Dillane) of the great Baekeland plastics fortune. Together they had one child, Tony (Barney Clark as the child, Eddie Redmayne as the “adult”).
Tony watched his mother and father snip and snicker through the snobbish set of the leisure class. This family had all the money they needed, but very little happiness. Mom and dad flirted and cheated. The child was caught in the couple’s crossfire. Oh, those fashionable, rich people with their problems. Do they not know what monsters they can create?
As years (approximately 1946-1972) and numerous stays in countries produce an ever-increasing amount of suffocation Daddy leaves son after stealing son’s Spanish girlfriend, Blanca (Elena Anaya).
Abandoned in affluence, Mommy and son are left to their own erotic devices. When they start to share lovers, you know something awful is going to happen. And, if you are unfamiliar with the real tragedy, you will be shocked and awed how bad things do turn out.
Again, because of the sexual dynamics of the film, like Kalin’s predecessor, Savage Grace represents gays as malfunctioning characters ensconced in their own little world, only to come out from the proverbial closet and attack the family unit. What results in Savage Grace can easily be blamed on a permissive society that encourages foreign travel, pot smoking, loose sexual morality and homosexuality. All hell breaks loose once Daddy has left the nest. Barbara is that rich, liberal woman often under attack by conservative groups. And since this is “what really happened” this is “proof.”
On a more serious level, Savage Grace lines itself in the narrative history of writers who explored the human animal through the cultural constructions of the family unit through the universal, yet various, loathing toward incest. Writers such as Sophocles, De Sade, George Bataille, D.H. Lawrence, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Claude Lêvi-Strauss have explored the phenomenon. It is never pretty when they do; nor is Savage Grace. What differs from works like Oedipus the King, Sons and Lovers and One Hundred Years of Solitude are that those writers delved hard into the incestuous psyche. Essentially, Savage Grace blames it on too much freedom.