The Ballad of Jack and Rose
January 16, 2006
Jack (Day-Lewis) and his daughter Rose (Belle) live in relative isolation on an island gradually being encroached by an ever-expanding suburbia. Jack is trying desperately to prevent this from happening for as long as he can. They live together with very little interaction with the outside world. They grow their own food and don’t even own a television. This idyllic existence is broken when Jack tells Rose that he needs to hire a nurse to live with them and take care of him because of his bad heart condition.
So, Jack invites his girlfriend Kathleen (Keener) and her two sons, Rodney (McDonald) and Thaddius (Dano), to come live with him and Rose. Rodney is an easy-going guy who wants to be a hairdresser while Thaddius is a kind of creepy fellow whose dangerous presence awakens Rose’s sexuality. Not surprisingly, the boys are less than thrilled with the arrangement and neither is Rose who doesn’t like the way her life has been disrupted. She starts acting erratic. She has Rodney cut her hair short and then she walks in on her father and Kathleen in bed with a loaded shotgun.
Rose is a product of her father and they’re both a little warped. Jack’s a leftover from an idealistic, back-to-nature 1960s experiment that didn’t pan out. The change in her regimented lifestyle and the introduction of new people (i.e. boys her age) creates a desire within her to experiment sexually but in a detached way that is more than a little unsettling as she goes through an accelerated coming-of-age process.
The environment is a character unto itself with its own moods and director Rebecca Miller captures its duality – its beauty and the unforgiving harshness. She also uses it as a foreshadowing device as a storm flares up before Catherine and her sons show up, acting as a harbinger of things to come. Miller also does a fantastic job of conveying a sense of place. In contrast, she shoots the interior scenes with a hand-held camera giving them a cinema verite look that feels quite intimate in nature akin to the way Lars Von Trier shot Breaking the Waves (1996).
Miller’s screenplay is filled with many smart observations about human behaviour as we get to know these characters and learn more about their backstories and what motivates them. She has created realistically drawn characters with their own virtues and faults just like anyone else. The cast is uniformly excellent, conveying the complex emotions of their characters and how they gradually bubble to the surface, bringing them in conflict with one another.
First and foremost, The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005) is a character-driven film and we see how living in such close quarters together makes everyone a little crazy. Miller explores the dynamic between everyone – the growing tension between Jack and Rose and the friction between Kathleen and her sons. This film is an epitaph on the idealism of the ‘60s and how one of its survivors finally learns to let go of the era he’s tried so hard to hold onto.