Tuesday, November 03, 2009

...but mad north by Northam...

Jeremy Northam is one of those actors that I don't exactly have a crush on, even though he fits my tall dark and handsome type, but I might as well have. I first saw him in the Sandra Bullock mess, The Net, and if I was flipping channels right now I would probably stick with it long enough to see him in the beginning and then switch away before it all goes to hell, fast.

He has been fantastic in everything I've seen featuring him—The Tudors (his Thomas More was wise, annoying, saintly, heroic—just as I imagined the real man might have been), Emma (a perfect Mr. Knightley), The Winslow Boy (I love this one), Gosford Park (and he sings!), etc., etc. Some resume, huh? There is always a subtle element about his acting, a mystery to the man and the character that I will never quite unravel, which makes me want to watch him again to see if I've got it right. So when a little movie about a "man who thinks he was a dog" called Dean Spanley aired on cable the other day with Northam, Peter O'Toole, Sam Neill and Bryan Brown, I simply had to see it.

Warning: some spoilers follow...

It was the weekend and there was a bit too much talking in the movie at first for my daughter, who was impatient for the dog part of the story to start. When it finally did, and then took some emotional and dramatic twists and turns, I looked over at her and saw her sobbing, at the fate of one of the dogs. Wow. This quirky little movie first bored her and then ripped her heart out. Luckily, the soothing presence of Northam's Fisk Junior and the denouement (and huge hugs and comfort from mommy) helped calm her down.

Dean Spanley is is one of those movies that may appear silly or quiet at first, but by their end reveal something quite a bit deeper. Such a movie reminds us how film, like no other art medium that I have experienced, can take one on an emotional roller coaster, lasting anywhere from a few moments to 2 1/2 hours. My daughter's reaction to the film's ending also reminded me how childhood is a constant ride on that roller coaster—where you can fall in love in a second with a dog in a movie, only to be crushed in the next. Now I know what a betrayal Bambi must have felt to some helpless parent who took their child to see a cartoon in the 40s, only to have them sobbing in the first reel.


Now don't get me wrong, I don't think I should have shielded my daughter from what happened in the movie, or that she should be "protected" from such movies. I do think I should be there to experience it (and the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz or any other scary movie moment) with her at her age. But I am humbled and amazed at how deeply hurt, no matter how transitory, this fictional event was for her. Movies and fairy tales are magic and sinister and wonderful and emotional. It will be interesting to see what affects my sensitive flower next.

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