xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The last forty minutes of the movie do come together in a pretty diverting way.
"The Substance of Fire,'' like "Shine", involves a father who is descending into madness. In both films, the process is a result of the psychic wounding done by the Holocaust. And in both films we are not quite sure how we are expected to deal with the illness, which results in cruelty to the next generation. It would be simpler without the madness: A man is damaged by the Holocaust, and visits his pain on his children. That is possible to understand. But insanity brings with it a certain license: Does it matter, after a point, what a mad person does? Can we blame them? The fact that we ask such questions makes both movies more interesting. The Holocaust is often used in fiction as pure evil, to which our moral response is immediate and direct. In these films it is more complicated. The father in "Substance of Fire'' is Isaac Geldhart (Ron Rifkin), who as a child saw the Nazis burn books. Now he heads one of New York's most respected publishing houses, and wants to publish a four-volume study of Nazi medical atrocities. This would seem destined to be a scholarly or academic work, but Isaac wants to print it like an art book, and sell it for hundreds of dollars. He rejects an entire printing--at $200 per set wholesale--because the paper is not good enough.
What's going on here? Why must the book be so beautiful and expensive, when its contents are as well contained in a paperback? Where is the market? Will the book appeal to those sometimes slightly ambivalent collectors of Nazi memorabilia? Isaac apparently wants the set to be handsome as a tribute to the aging scholar who spent his life writing it. He saw the Nazis burn books: Now he will publish an elegant book about the Nazis. There is symbolism here, but hard to sort out.
Like Lear, Isaac has three children and is of an age to divide his kingdom among them. His oldest son Aaron (Tony Goldwyn), who is gay, works with him in the publishing house. His other son, Martin (Timothy Hutton), teaches landscape architecture at Vassar. His daughter Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) is an actress on a children's TV series.
"Everybody in town knows your company is on the rocks,'' an agent (Eric Bogosian) tells Aaron. There's talk of a merger with Japanese interests, but they find the Nazi book "too morbid'' and shy away from Isaac's developing mania. Aaron hopes to make some money by publishing a steamy novel by his lover. The father calls it "meretricious crap--a trashy novel by a sicko hipster. I wanted my time back after I read it.'' Isaac is probably right. But a business cannot be run as a charity.