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Ballad of Jack and Rose

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Jan
Ballad of Jack and Rose
from Film Forum, 04/21/05

One of the finest films so far this year is also one of the most overlooked.

Rebecca Miller, daughter of the great playwright Arthur Miller, has written and directed her second feature film—The Ballad of Jack and Rose. This is a much more ambitious feature than her first film, Personal Velocity, and it features your run-of-the-mill Daniel Day-Lewis performance … that is to say, he's phenomenal.

Day-Lewis plays a dying man who is the last resident of an island commune, reflecting on the idealism of the 1960s during which he, his wife, and his friends tried to create a utopia in order to escape the corruption of contemporary American culture. They failed, and now Jack is left to mourn his losses. In his despair, he takes too much comfort in the company of his lovely daughter Rose (Camille Brown), and their relationship toes the line of incest.

Troubling? Yes. Truthful? Absolutely. The Ballad of Jack and Rose is a story about how human beings can try to wall out the evils of society, but we all fall short of the glory of God, and we take evil with us wherever we go. While the film itself falls short of suggesting any answers to this dilemma, there are a few suggestions that can lead us toward hope. One of those moments comes when Jack realizes, to his horror, that he is slipping into self-destructive behavior, and he cries out for God's forgiveness. Another comes when, in the presence of his enemy, he is able to admit his own faults and recognize the other's virtue.

The film co-stars Beau Bridges, Catherine Keener, and Jason Lee, and features a memorable performance by a young actor named Ryan McDonald.

My full review is at Looking Closer.

Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) isn't as impressed. "Though Miller creates an atmospheric backdrop for her strange tale, the vaguely incestuous undertones between father and daughter and a scene where the daughter invites one of the boys to deflower her make for fitfully distasteful viewing."

They're certainly distressing scenes, but neither is portrayed as things to celebrate. If the film had portrayed them in a way that didn't feel distasteful, we'd have a problem. I'll never recommend Ballad as a feel-good movie or as family viewing, but as a thoughtful and absorbing exploration of human weakness, it has admirable strengths.

Mainstream critics are divided over the film, but it has won some enthusiastic raves. Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times) calls it "a model of artistic, provocative American filmmaking."

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