As I Lay Dying – 2013

as i lay dyingI have to admit, when I first walked out of James Franco’s As I Lay Dying I was not at all convinced. As time has gone one, however, I have found myself reflecting more and more on this strange film.

Franco’s choices of narrative style are bold and uncompromising. From the very first moments the whopping 2.35 : 1 widescreen blankets your entire vision creating a sense of momentousness and huge-scale importance. When this screen divides to show two images at once you literally have to turn your head to take in both halves of the story. This splitscreen technique is Franco’s interpretation of the multiple narrators in Faulkner’s novel. After the first few scenes, which are incredibly jarring and difficult to watch, this technique settles down and is not only comprehensible but highly enjoyable. Gone is the shot, reverse shot formula that has plagued cinema, instead replaced with seeing everything relevant all at the same time. The film is undoubtedly beautiful to watch, and the cinematography captures the beauty of country. Franco also neatly sidesteps the problem of the film seeming too historical. The script and style are so achingly modern that there is no sense of distance or irrelevance as can sometimes happen in period films.

Most of the lead actors have to, at some point or another, deliver a stream of consciousness monologue directly to camera which is then intercut with action. Not a single one of these occasions feels contrived or forced. These monologues are the main thing which drives the emotional subtext within the story. Without these interludes the film would be a very dry, dull road movie. So much of the substance of this film is in this subtext, the stolen glances and silent secrets between the characters. The nuance involved in capturing this is truly an artistic accomplishment. The cast is one of the strongest in recent memory since every one of them has their moment in the sun. The narrative style means that there are no minor characters, and it is extraordinary to see each cast member add to this complex painting of the emotional ties and conflicts within a family.

There is not any aspect of this film which falls down. Franco’s script even shows us the gut-wrenching futility of everything we have seen. The final punch is delivered so casually that there’s nothing left for the audience except to be stunned. It leaves a bitter taste, but over time it becomes apparent that this is the great strength of As I Lay Dying. It takes a series of appalling circumstances and somehow wrings beauty out of them.

  • Entertainment: 4/5
  • Artistic:              5/5
  • Intellectual:       3/5

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