As I Lay Dying is an adaptation of William Faulkner’s classic American novel, and stars James Franco (Spring Breakers, 127 Hours), Tim Blake Nelson (Lincoln), Beth Grant (The Mindy Project), Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus), Jim Parrack (True Blood) and Ahna O’Reilly (Fruitvale Station). Franco also directed the film.
I need to make a confession: I have never read anything by William Faulkner. And although I am an avid (my friends will say obsessed) reader, Faulkner’s work has never crossed my path. So I had no clue what to expect when I started watching As I Lay Dying. The film begins with Addie Bundren (Grant) in bed, her daughter Dewey Dell (O’Reilly) by her side. The screen is split and the viewer sees different images, which was distracting for me because I didn’t want to miss anything. Cash (Parrack) is outside endlessly sawing wood, the sound in the viewers’ ears constantly reminding them of his task to get his mother’s coffin ready for her when she passes. Darl (Franco) seems to do nothing but antagonize his brother Jewel (Marshall-Green), telling him over and over again that their mother was “gonna die.” Youngest child Vardaman (played by Brady Permenter in his film debut) is terrified of losing his mother and really doesn’t know what to do. Anse (Nelson), the patriarch of this strange family with the worst set of teeth I’ve ever seen, seems absolutely clueless how to ease his wife’s suffering and finally summons Dr. Peabody (Brian Lally). The good doctor is rightfully peeved that Anse waited so long to fetch him and declares that it is only a matter of time before Addie passes on. Darl and Jewel think they can make a run to town in order to make a few bucks for the family before they lose their mother, but we all know that that’s just wishful thinking. It begins to downpour and, of course, Darl and Jewel get stuck and don’t make it back in time. Addie is gone and her husband wants to fulfill her wish to be buried in Jefferson. Thus begins the worst family road trip ever.
As I Lay Dying is not a movie that everyone will get; it may seem pretentious to some and too slow for others. I barely made it through the first 15 minutes of the film for several reasons. The split screen drove me crazy, Darl repeating the same phrases over and over to Jewel was irritating, the constant sawing was maddening, and I could barely understand anything that came out of Anse’s mouth (or look at it, for that matter).
But then something happened: I was sucked into the story and I’m not sure how it happened. James Franco is some kind of genius because his direction had me going through the motions: from rolling my eyes wondering when the film was going to be over, to sitting up in bed wondering what else could go wrong. Just about everyone in the Bundren family was affected by Anse’s decision to bury Addie in Jefferson except Anse. Injuries, near drownings, fires and revealed secrets were just a taste of the bad luck that plagued this family. But nothing, I mean nothing could prepare me for the ending. I wasn’t even aware the movie was over and when I did, I was livid. I felt like I had been seriously duped, bamboozled and just plain played, as did most of the characters in the film. The stunned looks on their faces mirrored my own because I couldn’t believe what I had just seen.
Was this film perfect? No, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good film. The cast was excellent, especially Tim Bake Nelson as Anse. His character may seem like a fool, but he’s as sly as they come. Anse is no one’s fool and he had his way from beginning to end as opposed to his children, whose suffering seemed endless. The rest of the cast played their parts splendidly and the individual monologues were a nice touch. Now that I have seen the film, I plan to pick up As I Lay Dying from the nearest bookstore as soon as possible.
As I Lay Dying is currently out on DVD.Powered by Sidelines