This Movie Got Me Thinking…

January 30, 2006

I rented The Ballad of Jack and Rose the other night, which spurred some introspection about the unintended effects of a parent’s idealism, convictions, or quest for purity.

The premise of the flick is this: Dad (Daniel Day-Lewis) lives with teenage daughter in idyllic isolation on an island off the East Coast. He’s the last resident of what used to be an intentional community, founded in the 60s. He and his daughter raise plants and chickens, live in a passive solar house powered by windmills, and eat mostly vegetarian food they’ve raised themselves. She’s home-schooled, they’ve got no TV… You get the idea.

They share a pretty dreamy life. The problem? He’s dying, and though he’s raised his daughter within the bucolic biodome of his ideology, she is utterly unprepared for contact with people from the mainland – their values, aesthetics, food, relationships, and culture in general.

Most reviewers expressed ambivalence about the film, but NY Times critic Manohla Dargis viewed the father character as a monster.

Of course, there was a vague Oedipal theme wafting throughout the film, suggesting a dangerous intimacy between father and daughter. But that was not the aspect the critic found loathsome: it was the father’s idealism.

I found that curious: at what point does a parent’s desire to raise their child according to their convictions, (which may be quite counter to the prevailing culture) handicap a child? The father’s vision of living in simplicity, and in harmony with the land, was seductive to me, so it was difficult for me to see him as monstrous.

But if my son adopts my worldview, I’ll admit that he’s in for a disappointing ride. He’ll see cookie-cutter housing developments eating up farmland and wilderness and sigh, he’ll listen to politicians and harrumph, he’ll see trash strewn along a beach and feel heaviness in his chest. He may even turn up his nose at a Twinkie. (Well, probably not…)

I have strong convictions about food, consumerism, creativity, TV, politics, etc., which compel my parenting choices. The father in the film, as the end of his life draws near, wonders: is it all just a matter of taste, then, with one set of ideals just as good as the next?