Yesterday as I travelled home from work, I saw nearly everyone on my Twitter timeline talking about a film. My interest was piqued, because the tweets were a mixture of shock, disgust, and praise for the film and its actors. As soon as I got home, I fired up the computer and began watching The Strange Thing About The Johnsons.
What's the film about? As per the website's film synopsis:
"The Johnsons are an attractive, well-to-do, upper middle class family. Sidney, husband and father, is a famous poet, known and adored for his kindness and sensitivity. Joan, wife and mother, is a dutiful housewife, an obsessive homemaker, and the life of every party. Their son, Isaiah, is a charismatic young man who has just gotten married to an equally appealing young woman. In fact, there is only one thing that separates the Johnsons from their charming friends and neighbors: Isaiah, the son, has been molesting Sidney, the father, since he was fifteen years old. And what's more, Sidney has written a memoir that chronicles, in great detail, the ins-and-outs of this unseemly father-son relationship. Will the manuscript ever see the light of day, or will young Isaiah have a thing or two to say about it? THE STRANGE THING ABOUT THE JOHNSONS is a dark satire of the domestic melodrama, which asks "What if...?" and then, or some reason, comes up with an answer."
Thank me for putting that synopsis up before you watch the film - I pressed PLAY and went in, completely blind as to what the film was about.
After watching the film, one thing I could not believe (due to the amazing cinematography and direction of the film) was that this film is not a professional feat at all. This was a recent thesis assignment for the AFI (American Film Institute)! The director/screenwriter, Ari Aster, has a great future ahead of him if this is the work he is producing while studying at the AFI.
Now. The film. I'm not fully going to review it here. I will give the link to the video at the bottom of this post, and then we can discuss in the comments section. However, I will tell you how I felt while I watched it.
While there is no nudity, explicit sexuality, or gratuitous violence shown, this film is definitely not for the kids. That's the genius of the film - you are not force-fed the gory details, but you are given just enough so that your own mind can run wild and fill in the rest. The acting was incredible, especially by Billy Mayo, the actor who played Sidney. I'm not sure where he drew his inspiration to play a man who goes from kind and happy to withdrawn, distant, and full of fear - but he was amazing. I felt shock, disbelief, and confusion - does this type of reverse Oedipal complex really exist? How did this begin for Isaiah and Sidney? At some points, I felt I didn't even have the words needed to formulate the questions in my mind.
The film is not without its controversies and criticisms. I've seen a number of people feel enraged that Aster used an African-American family to tell this story, even going so far as to call Aster "racist" for "using us". To this I say, SHUT UP. You're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't. Stories of abuse are prevalent across all races - Blacks are not exempt, no matter how far-fetched one considers the topic. Also, we complain about seeing the same Black actors all the time - here we have a group of relative unknowns, who will hopefully go on to even more great work after this film. Call me naïve, but a racist thought never crossed my mind while watching this. I was too caught up in the richness of the actors' skills, the amazing cinematography and the suspense of wondering what would happen next.
Also, some people took offense to Aster calling this a "dark comedy" in a recent interview:
I personally couldn't find the "comedy" in this film, so I'm not sure where he was drawing that from. The film seems to have been inspired from an almost ridiculous request to come up with the most unconscionable film topic possible - maybe some people laughed at Aster's choice thinking it's TOO ridiculous, but the film itself has not a lick of comedy in it. Very serious, very full given the 29 minute length, and will very much stay with you after you've watched it.
Here is the link to The Strange Thing About The Johnsons: http://vimeo.com/27221118 ***NOTE: this link is now password protected. See this new link: http://vimeo.com/19546535 with password: alejo - thanks to Browntown80!***
Did you watch the film? How do you think it will do on the short-film circuit? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section...