Saturday, August 02, 2008

Grace is Gone


In watching this film I am reminded of what Col. William Ludlow (played by Anthony Hopkins) said in Legends of the Fall, “Samuel chose to be a soldier and soldiers die. Sent to be slaughtered by the men in the government.” The character Samuel was his youngest son who died in the trenches of World War I. He accepted the death as only a former soldier could. 

Here in Grace is Gone is also story of the death of another soldier, Grace Philipps, and how her husband and her two daughters deal with the aftermath. But Stanley Philipps (John Cusack) is not a Col. Ludlow.

Just to give you a background, Stanley is as patriotic as you can get. He supported the government wholeheartedly and with fanatical zeal after 911. He even signed up for the Army and was ready and hoping to be shipped out after training. Fortunately or unfortunately for him the Army found out he cheated on his eye exam, so only Grace whom he’d met and made a life with in the army was sent abroad.

Stanley refused to be the anxious soldier’s spouse waiting and hoping for America’s fighting men and women to come back alive and unharmed, instead he sees himself as the proud husband of an American hero. That was until he was visited by a soldier accompanied by a chaplain. If you’ve seen Saving Private Ryan having these visitors is not good.

That pride was shattered into a million pieces with the death of Grace. As any grieving spouse would he tackles the ‘what could have beens’; was he right or was he wrong; it should have been me; even, how could she have died.

The last question may be a strange one to ask considering the line of work a soldier does, but it is asked. Unlike the Spartans of Greece the world’s lone superpower seems to believe that her soldiers should always come back alive. George W. Bush’s administration, for one, has been criticized in its limitations on covering the war dead. Why hide from people one fact of war?

And,Stanley’s shock and subsequent actions, like that of his country, betrays the lack of acceptance that soldiers can indeed die. He went on a road trip towards a far away amusement park they all loved as a family all the while denying his two daughters the news of Grace’s death.

John Cusack played his character very well. He is the patriot who lost his wife; he is ravaged by internal debates on his belief system; and also he is a loving father who doesn’t want his daughters any second of sadness. The best scene showing his plight is when he calls home (which he does so often in the trip) and leaves a message on his answering machine for his dead wife. It speaks volumes on his grief.

Shélan O'Keefe (Heidi Phillips) and Gracie Bednarczyk (Dawn Phillips) played Grace’s two daughters. So young, happy, and full of life one really gets to understand why Stanley chose secrecy than tell tragedy outward. In watching this film you’ll be divided between let them know or let them have one more day of happiness.

Grace is Gone, while being about a dead soldier’s family and their way of coping is not overtly about the war in Iraq. The closest to the war and to a debate as you can get is when Stanley meets up with his younger brother John (Alessandro Nivola) who vehemently anti-War. But John stops short (and ultimately this film) of making a point on present American policies regarding the war or the post 911 world when he founds out Grace is dead.

And I loved it that way: very sensitive. No point in saying the mistakes; the ‘I told you so’; a husband is grieving and a soldier is dead. That’s that.

The film is not a tear festival as well. Remember the daughters were made to  believe their mother is still alive, and they were laughing and smiling almost all throughout the story. Watching it you may find that the film is lost; there is a road trip to an amusement park but it feels like a trip to nowhere; the inwardly grieving husband contrasted by overtly happy daughters. That’s the entire film, a road trip that shouldn’t be.

But in a sense that is the point. As represented by the road trip, in a tragedy so great you may find yourself asking and not immediately finding answers; ‘where do I go now?’

Ironically that road trip can also speak volumes of the war policies of Bush, “where do I go now?”