Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
It must have been something like this in medieval times, families living in isolation, cut off from neighbors, forced indoors by the weather, their animal and sexual functions not always shielded from view. Tim Roth's "The War Zone," brilliant and heartbreaking, takes place in the present but is timeless; most particularly it is cut off from the fix-it culture of psychobabble, which defines all the politically correct ways to consider incest. The movie is not about incest as an issue, but about incest as a blow to the heart and the soul--a real event, here, now, in a family that seems close and happy. Not a topic on a talk show.
The movie takes place in winter in Devon, which is wet and gray, the sky squeezing joy out of the day. The family has moved from London "to make a fresh start," the mother says. They live in a comfortable cottage, warm and sheltered, life revolving around the big kitchen table. Mum (Tilda Swinton) is very pregnant. Dad (Ray Winstone) is bluff and cheery, extroverted, a good guy. Tom (Freddie Cunliffe) is a 15-year-old, silent and sad because he misses his friends in London. Jessie (Lara Belmont) is 18 years old, ripe with beauty. This looks like a cheerful story.
Roth tells it obliquely, sensitive to the ways families keep secrets even from themselves. Early in the film the mother's time comes and the whole family rushes to the hospital; there's a car crash, but a happy ending, as they gather in the maternity ward with the newcomer, all of them cut and bruised, but survivors. Back at home, there is a comfort with the physical side of life. Mum nurses her child, in kitchen scenes like renaissance paintings. Tom is comfortable with his sister's casual nudity while they have a heart-to-heart talk. Mum helps wash her men at the kitchen sink, Jessie dries her brother's hair in the laundry room, the family seems comfortable with one another.
Then Tom glimpses a disturbing part of a moment between his father and his sister. He challenges Jessie. She says nothing happened. Something did happen, and more will happen, including a scene of graphic hurtfulness. But this isn't a case of Tom discovering incest in his family and blowing the whistle. It's much more complicated. How does he feel about his sister, and about her relationship with her new boyfriend Nick? What about his father's eerie split personality, able to deny his behavior and see Tom's interference as an assault on their happy family? What about the mother's willingness not to know? What about his sister's denial? Does it spring from shame, fear or a desire to shield Tom and her mother from the knowledge?