Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Keane the movie

William Keane portrayed by Damian Lewis

People watch movies for all kinds of strange reasons. I watched Keane because I'm fascinated by red hair the colour of blood-oranges, Real or L'Oreal. Obviously I came into this unprepared, and for not paying attention I tripped and fell harder for it. Is there such a thing as too much suspense, too much dread in a movie? This low budget indie started like a drama, ended like a psychological thriller, and stayed with me for more than a week afterwards. How did it do that, and what am I to do now?

Can you make a character too sympathetic? Put them through your worst personal nightmare and watch them try to pick up the pieces. That's a good start. The movie is a portrait of mental torment and desperation. William Keane is trying to locate his young daughter after she was snatched from a bus terminal the day after 9/11 during a brief moment of distraction. His journey is hampered by isolation, debilitating guilt and a damaged mind.

William at the bus terminal

Keane shows, but doesn't tell. What we know for sure is this: During intermittent clear periods William makes himself presentable, tries to find work and pays his bill at a dodgy motel using government disability cheques. He speaks to himself as he struggles to appear normal but the heartsick anxiety and paranoia can't be suppressed for long. He goads and yells at himself to get up, move and go on when his courage fails him. How can he see past himself when the inner conflict absorbs so much of his attention?

At times I wondered if this was really a horror movie in disguise. The shaking dread begins when we are forced to watch him befriend a mother and her little daughter Keira staying at that same motel. The suspense was so excruciating it felt like I held my breath for the last 30 minutes. A friend I watched it with actually got up and left the room for a while saying she could not bear the tension. Two friends I lent it to found it too traumatic, and turned it off after 50 minutes.

Looks just like a regular guy

The movie uses our sympathy for William against us to raise the stakes and foreboding. The little girl's presence provides a painful illumination of the man he was and the life he had. There is a natural ease and loving yet firm manner he has with her that parents will recognise in an experienced parent. After such loss and self-blame, we appreciate what it must mean to him to feel like a father figure again to the neglected little girl. There is so much riding on this opportunity but how long can his fractured mind hold together? His undisclosed mental illness elicits unnerving and wild speculation for this is still a poorly understood illness and taboo topic.

In the usual thriller the victims experience fear, suspicion and helplessness when they realise the danger they have encountered. At the start William is a danger mostly to himself, but as soon as he meets the mother and daughter all fear, suspicion and helplessness is left shouldered by the viewer; we're the only ones who know him well. When the mother places him in a position of authority and trust I wanted to scream a warning as you would hear in a gory horror flick "The axe-murderer is right behind you, no don't go down that dark alleyway alone!" But these weren't the right words. He sees the opportunity for self-reparation as clearly as we see the potential tragedy. William as both victim and threat seen uniquely by the audience grips us in a dilemma of responsibility, and we are hooked right up to the very last second.

Abigail Breslin as Keira

This movie haunted me for over a week. From friends' comments and my reaction I've surmised this movie will bowl you over if you have experienced at least 2 of the below.

  • Emotional trauma
  • Abrupt disappearance or loss of a loved one
  • Parenthood
  • Been a counsellor or therapist
Otherwise you have 50% chance of finding it slow to start and weird. Pretty precise percentage huh.

If you have sparse awareness of mental illness then this movie will put a face to it; William is the kind of person you usually give a wide berth, not stay perched over their shoulder. You'll see the ups and downs, the unpredictability and volatility, but also the struggle, humility and bravery of a person who must face big obstacles and fears just to have a normal life.

It was hard to shake off Keane. You might find yourself briefly wanting to champion forward and 'do something about mental illness and homelessness' like I did initially! Talk about a kneejerk reaction, but I couldn't just do nothing. Maybe I'd missed the point. Why did the writer/director make this movie and what were they hoping to achieve? If part of their aim was to spread awareness and understanding then BINGO from me.

I saw Keane several months ago but didn't intend to review it, it's heavy stuff. This entry was started because last week I saw an old busker dirty and ragged at the train station looking bewildered. Swallowing my anxiety and shyness I asked how he was doing, and if he needed any help. He looked at me mumbling softly, pointed to one platform then another. When asked "Do you know where you're going?" he muttered inaudibly but seemed to be ok now, strangely. Maybe he slept on a cold pavement somewhere, maybe he knew of a shelter. I thought about Keane again and realised I can't look at the homeless or the drug/alcohol addled vagrant the same way anymore.

1 comment:

bZirk said...

I will definitely have to catch this one.