"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Sunday, June 5, 2011

OSF 2011 August: Osage County, and Downfall (play and film review)

This is a really quick review of August: Osage County. Here's the thing: by an odd coincidence I just happened, the day before, to see the movie Downfall, which is a faithful reconstruction of the last days in Hitler's bunker. It's a train wreck of a story, of course, the End of Days for Hitler and the party faithful who are, like some of those other crazy cults that make the headlines from time to time, committing suicide rather than returning to the real world. Increasing degrees of insanity and disintegration infect all within the bunker while without, the Russians inexorably close in.

It is a very impressive movie and a fascinating one, but though the people are all shown to be human, I could not identify with any of them: they are all completely off the rails and, to say the least, unsympathetic. But it's a beautifully done movie and I'm full of admiration for the people who pulled it off with such sincerity, as somehow they avoid exploiting the terrible story for its shock value and sensationalism; the story itself was shocking enough and it happened. It was enough. It was just right. There could be no other movie quite like this one.

So what does a film about the last days of Hitler have to do with a play about a family in Oklahoma? Quite a lot, actually, but I'll leave it to you to figure that out. I'll just say that the next day, as I sat through August: Osage County I felt like I was in that bunker again. The play, which has won prestigious awards, is beautifully written in terms of storytelling structure and characterizations, and the story resonates well beyond the confines of the family under the microscope. The scattered siblings and their families are gathered back into the family fold to attend a funeral; the characters seem very real and believable even though the family is over the top crazy and everyone is in some sort of crisis. The direction here must be extraordinarily good because I can't imagine how anything more could have been wrung out of the material; the evening was a nonstop high-wire act balancing tragedy and comedy with perfect timing and pitch, every role a juicy one and all the actors fabulous, just fabulous.

 Savannah Edson,
Ashland High School student. She
delivers a nuanced and mature
performance, holding her own among the
high-powered cast of
August: Osage County
In short, the whole production was amazingly good. And yet I felt absolutely no emotional identification with any of the characters, and didn't really care what became of them. I'm glad I saw this play, but even though I could see how good it was, I personally didn't like it much.

My bad.

Rating: five out of five stars. A fine play, beautifully done, and most people who see it are praising it. I have to be honest about my own lack of affect, but at the same time, I hope I also made it clear that even so, I'm glad I didn't miss it. It's an interesting play and a great production.


Bassem said...

Downfall is indeed an amazing movie. I do remember when it first came out it was attacked in some papers due to it showing a human face to Hitler. The typical Hollywood WWII films tend to show him as a monster which I find to be very convenient for a people in self denial.

It's comforting to think that a crime that occurred in the past is not our responsibility nor do we have any burden in its relation. If we can't blame a different nation, we'll blame a different generation, if not then just point a finger at a different person and that clear you of all responsibility. By showing Hitler and other criminals of the past as purely monsters with no semblance of any humanity, then we can clean our hands of any responsibility and point clearly at Stalin, Pol Pot, Bin Laden or other national enemy and paint them with only one brush - forgetting the fact that there are many factors that effect anyone and anything to carry out an action and something in as grand a scale as what happened during the Second World War is very foolish to blame just one man without considering the historic context, the Allies punishment on Germany after the Great War, where does the prejudice against the minorities in Europe came from at the time, there are many questions that should be asked. Unfortunately entertainment TV, probably for simplicity, decided to just say it's because Hitler was insane and gradually this became something of a historic fact - meaning we have absolutely no moral qualm or lessons to learn from the Second World War.

As for August: Osage County, I find it very clever, if I understood you correctly, that what happened in Hitler's bunker was indirectly translated into a family scenario inside a home! I could have never thought of that for a story! Fascinating! :D Shame that you weren't able to connect to the characters though. Is it because of poor acting?

Bassem said...

Wow, I just realized how long my comment was. I'm sorry for that, I always get carried away! I'll try and keep it short next time! :)

Christine Menefee said...

Hey Bassem! Thanks for your comment - long is good; you had lots to say. This subject could become a book!

The similarities between the two stories really were striking. The playwright might have seen the movie and been inspired by it, but probably not. Perhaps the psychology of an embattled, severely "dysfunctional" family is just not that different from that of a small group of people who have committed their lives to some other kind of belief system (much of the play is about the family members' mistaken beliefs about each other). Anyway, both groups were stuck in a "bunker," fell apart and self-destructed in parallel ways.

I think you're right that people prefer not to believe major villains like Hitler are possible in their own time or place; they prefer to think of them as "monsters" or something "other" that "can't happen here." I'm sorry to hear that people criticized the movie for making Hitler seem more human; that's just the point of it!

In fact there are plenty of villains-- from "snakes in suits" like some supervisors I had at work, to political leaders starting wars -- and many obedient followers of villains in any generation's population. You or I or anyone might be a follower, at least, given the wrong circumstances; we have no way of knowing unless we're put to the test. The examples you cited prove that a Hitler can happen anywhere.

I've read of some scientific discoveries concerning how some behaviors can be triggered by environmental factors, where otherwise they would never have manifested. (Which reminds me of your interesting post about the cat-borne pathogen that sometimes changes people's personalities.)And then there's the mystery of "mob" behavior. This really could be a book but we seem to be on the same page, here.

No, the acting wasn't bad; it was very good. And even when characters are flawed, as these were, it can be possible to sympathize with them. I just didn't! All I can say is that not all art appeals equally to all people. I can be very affected by some plays or movies or novels and not at all by others; the "why" of it is usually a mystery to me. A lot of reviewers judge what they see simply on the basis of whether they personally like it or not (the "it sucked" vs. "it rocked" school of criticism); I think that's unfair and try to give credit where credit is due. And this play, and production, had a lot of credit due.

Thanks again for your thoughtful remarks! It's such a nice surprise to find a comment.