AFI FEST 2010 Review: TWO GATES OF SLEEP
Writer: Alistair Banks Griffin
Director: Alistair Banks Griffin
Cast: Brady Corbet, David Call, Karen Young
Alistar Banks Griffin’s directorial debut, TWO GATES OF SLEEP, tells the journey of two brothers dealing with the death and burial of their mother. Taking place in the rural outskirts of Louisiana along the Mississippi River, Jack (Brady Corbet) and Louis (David Call) diligently follow their mother’s (Karen Young) wish of being put to rest surrounded by the environment she loved so much while she was alive.
Even though it is clear Jack and Louis always intended on handling their mother’s passing their own way, they do call a doctor to the house to examine her body, but when he instructs them to call an ambulance and follow the “normal” burial procedures, they refuse. In one of the few scenes in the film with extended dialogue, it is Louis who takes up their cause and likens their mother’s death to the death of any animal. He points out that you would not need to fill out paperwork when you kill a deer in the woods, and he sees this to be no different. Life itself is personal, and as such we do not invite just anyone in to share it with, so why is it considered standard practice to do so when dealing with death?
As Louis and Jack build their mother’s coffin, Louis reprimands Jack for hammering his nails incorrectly. Jack, upset at the criticism, stalks off stating that maybe his way is the right way. Louis responds, “There is a right way and a wrong way to do things.” This statement is interesting, especially coming from Louis, since moments before he was telling the doctor that maybe their way of dealing with death was right and the doctor’s was wrong. The question becomes who really is to say what is right and what is wrong?
Going against the grain of standard film practices, Griffin’s story is told with little to no dialogue. However, with the absence of words, each moment is heightened and resonates more than if words had ever been put to them. In this setting, every sound naturally becomes more amplified. The ringing that vibrates right after a gunshot is fired is heard as clearly as if you would if you were standing right next to the brothers while they hunt. The sound of feet running over leaves, water running over rocks, and nature itself all come to the forefront and make you realize how much “noise” is lost on our ears.
With sparse dialogue to compete with, the use of music (by Saunder Jurriaans and Daneil Bensi) becomes a tricky balance of coming to the forefront while not being too overpowering and Juriaans and Bensi accomplish this beautifully. The almost grating nature of the score brings the audience to the emotional place of dealing with death – it is simply uncomfortable. However, the score would swell into beautiful bass tones as the characters traveled into the expanse of nature that surrounded them. The lush greenery, the river, the intricate patterns on the wood on the trees, the life that was growing and moving all around them signaled release and helped remind us why these brother’s took on this struggle to fulfill their mother’s wishes and why it was her wish to begin with.
Griffin originally began his career as an artist, but when his skills started to become too limiting, he moved into animation and eventually found his way into live action and film. Griffin’s background in art and his appreciation of images shines through in every frame of the film. The shots of nature, which are held on for extended moments rather than just flashing by to set the scene, are stunning in their simplicity. Griffin almost presents his film as a painter would a painting with limited commentary and proves that although he never had formal training as a filmmaker, he has an eye and can tell a story with mere images just as well as a film with stirring monologues.
In the end, grief seems to come down to thinking about life. It is impossible to look at death and not immediately reflect on life, because it is those of us that remain living who must continue to focus on doing just that. By the end of the journey, if you are lucky, you may see light at the end of the tunnel, even if it means that by the time you reach it, you are standing there alone.
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