The Ballad of Jack and Rose

| April 1, 2005

Jack (Day-Lewis) and Rose (Camilla Belle) are a father and daughter, living on an old commune on an island off the east coast. They are almost entirely in isolation–Rose has never had any friends her age, has barely had contact with any people besides her father, a situation which leads their co-dependency to defy the conventions of the typical family roles. From almost the very first scene it is obvious that Rose fills the wife/companion role more than she does the daughter–there is ambiguity as to what their relationship actually entails. However, as obvious as it is that there is a deeper closeness between them, it is also obvious that Jack is uncomfortable with the reality of it. He invites his secret girlfriend Kathleen (Keener) and her sons to come and live with them, as much to help take care of him as to help distract him from the attractions of his daughter. Rose does what any territorial daughter/companion would do–becomes exceedingly jealous and threatened, and tries to find ways to regain the monopoly of her father’s attention.
I admit that I’m slightly biased towards this movie, since it was shot by one of my favorite cinematographers, Ellen Kuras, and contains brilliant performances by two actors that are quite high on my list–Daniel Day-Lewis and Catherine Keener. I enjoy the movie despite its flaws–for its beauty, for its peculiarity, for its bravery. On the other hand, I doubt many people will enjoy it for the same reasons.
What I quickly learned while watching this film is it lacks relatable elements that we’ve come to expect from movies. Even if we can’t relate to a storyline, we can usually relate to the feelings that motivate it. But that doesn’t seem to be the case for the majority of The Ballad of Jack and Rose. Not only can we not relate to the characters, we are unable to understand their actions. Instead of concentrating on the emotional impact of the drama, I found myself confused, wondering what the hell drove certain characters to choose their actions. Jack seems to be the exception–his character carries the film and makes it more than just a detached look at irregular behavior. It is his dream to maintain his peaceful lifestyle and to protect his daughter from the outside world. It is this very dream that becomes threatened by his own decisions, and in this threatening, the real success of the film emerges. But besides Jack, the rest of the characters–Rose, Kathleen, and Kathleen’s sons Thadius and Rodney–seem to be captives of their actions, doing things that the rest of us probably wouldn’t, without much explanation of their motives.
As such, The Ballad of Jack and Rose seems to be more of a study of drama than an embracement of it. But under the direction of Rebecca Miller this relatively detached study is more interesting than most dramas gracing the theatres these days. It’s a look at the devastation that can occur when we’re forced to change, to let go of our lifelong dreams, to face the outside world.

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