Sunday, April 23, 2017
A Thousand Acres (1997) DVD Review
Larry (Jason Robards), in order to avoid inheritance taxes, decides to form a corporation, and each of his three daughters will receive a third of the farm, and will run the business. Ginny and Rose immediately take to the idea, but the youngest daughter, Caroline, says she’ll think about it. Larry overreacts, telling her: “If you don’t want it, my girl, you’re out. Simple as that.” In voice over, Ginny talks about her father’s pride being hurt. Ginny tries to convince Caroline to accept their father’s offer, but when Caroline shows up at the house, Larry closes the door in her face. So the farm is divided in half, between Ginny and Rose, as Lear’s kingdom is divided in half between Goneril and Regan. But after this, Larry just remains seated at his window, angrily watching how his land is being used, and questioning it.
Ginny and Rose talk about setting rules for their father, especially after Larry ends up in the hospital after a drunk driving accident. A severe thunder storm rolls in, and Larry lashes out at Ginny and Rose, calling Ginny a bitch, and saying he’d rather stay out in the storm than go home. The daughters tell him he’s on his own, and there is a hint of something darker between them. As in King Lear, Larry curses his oldest daughter, “You’ll never have children.” But we don’t like Larry here. And there is no Fool or Kent or Edgar at his side to help us align with him. (There is a Ken, who is the family lawyer, so he is this adaptation’s Kent, but he never puts himself on the line, never risks anything, so he is not like Kent at all.) Larry goes to Harold, saying “They threw me out.” Of course, that’s not true. There are three houses on the property, and Larry lives in one of them. There’s nothing keeping him from going to his house. He stayed out in the storm by his own decision, and then stays with Harold also by his own decision. And because this story is from Ginny’s perspective, the film doesn’t even follow Larry into the storm.
And then as we get farther into the film, we like Larry even less, as it comes out that he sexually abused both Ginny and Rose when they were children. At first Ginny refuses to remember, when Rose raises the subject. Rose tells her: “He didn’t rape me, Ginny. He seduced me.” Of course, this is completely different from the play, but Michelle Pfeiffer and Jessica Lange as Rose and Ginny are great in this scene. But as I mentioned, not one of the characters is likeable. In King Lear, you really feel for many of the characters at different moments. Good versions of King Lear will have you in tears. But this film is not at all emotionally engaging, even though it adds breast cancer and hospital scenes in attempts to tug at your heart.
Jess – the film’s Edmund – returns home at the beginning of the movie, and soon it is clear that Ginny is attracted to him. They begin an affair. Later we learn that Rose also has an affair with him. Though he doesn’t behave in a cruel manner as Edmund does in the play, Jess is ultimately unlikeable as well. And even Harold is awful. He insults Ginny and Rose and Jess in a public setting, without provocation, quite unlike Gloucester. And while Harold does reject Jess, as Gloucester rejects Edgar (Edgar, not Edmund), he does it without any real reason. In the play, Gloucester is deliberately fooled by Edmund to reject Edgar.
Caroline and Larry reconcile, as Cordelia and Lear do in the play, but here it is in order to sue Ginny and Rose to get the farm back. So you don’t even like Caroline in this adaptation, as she becomes a sort of villain, or at least the pawn of a villain. For yes, in this version, Larry is a villain. It’s kind of incredible for an adaptation of King Lear to create a dislikeable Cordelia, but A Thousand Acres does just that. Larry does go a little mad toward the end. In the courtroom scene, he believes that Caroline is dead, but calms down when Caroline stands in front of him and guides him off the stand. There are deaths, as in the play, but no one is responsible for anyone else’s death, at least not directly. Pete dies in a car accident after driving while inebriated. Rose dies from breast cancer. Larry dies from a heart attack (but not from a broken heart, as Caroline still lives at the end), but we only hear about it in voice over. It’s not even part of the film.
Interestingly, though this is a King Lear adaptation, the movie keeps the one other Shakespeare reference from the book, a reference to The Merchant Of Venice. Rose tells Ginny that she wants everything their father had, saying that she deserves it. She then says: “Do you think a breast weighs a pound? That’s my pound of flesh.”
A Thousand Acres was directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse. The DVD contains no special features.