Finding boundaries in A Home at the End of the World and finding China in Hero.

Michael Cunningham has a thing for third wheels. In 2002 s The Hours, three women s lives were examined based on a primary relationship with a romantic partner and a complication from a third party.
I was astonished by The Hours unflinching look at the varieties of depression and its effect on the lives surrounding its victims. Depression is neither easily controlled nor contained and efforts to escape or compress it can result in unpredictable implosions or explosions in unexpected areas of the depressed person s life. Push down hard enough on something and it will squirt out the sides. Each of the women in The Hours pushes down on one or more parts of their lives, only to see it squirt out the sides somewhere else. There are two noteworthy, opposing strategies for combating this kind of repression: give boundaries to every aspect of life or have no boundaries at all. Both present hazards.
In A Home at the End of the World, we are introduced to Bobby, a shy, impressionable child of the early 1970s (played in younger years by Andrew Chalmers and Erik Smith), who worships his cooler-than-cool hippie brother and learns from him a singular life lesson: It s all just love. Big brother dies suddenly at a party (I won t spoil it, but the accident is gorgeously and terrifyingly filmed), and Bobby lives thereafter with It s all just love as a mantra. As a teen, this allows him to feel fine while sexually experimenting with his new best friend, Jonathan (Harris Allan), or getting chummy and sharing pot with Jonathan s mom (Sissy Spacek). When Bobby s father dies, Bobby is orphaned and taken in by Jonathan s parents where he lives after Jonathan has moved out for college.
As a young adult in 1982, Bobby is still a virgin but has the same loose sense of boundaries and is now played by Colin Farrell. Best pal Jonathan, now played by Dallas Roberts, has moved to New York s East Village, where he has a gay life, different from his family life and very removed from whatever life Bobby had fit into. Not knowing what to do after moving out of Jonathan s parents home, Bobby moves to New York to be with Jonathan and his spunky roommate Clare (delightful Robin Wright Penn). Jonathan s life is so meticulously segmented that Bobby s arrival, while welcome, violates several of the emotional protections Jonathan has set up for himself. Bobby belongs in friend life and family life not gay city life. When Clare successfully deflowers Bobby, Jonathan s roommate life has been invaded as well, forcing him out of the apartment until Clare becomes pregnant. The trio s strange emotional arrangement (Bobby loves Clare who used to love Jonathan but now loves Bobby, and Jonathan who loves Bobby and used to think he loved Clare) is somehow reconciled by the impending baby, and they all move to Woodstock, New York, and open a cafÇ.
Lacking The Hours depth and gravity but indulging, instead, in a journeyman s sense of wonder, Home successfully navigates through Jonathan s life compartments and through Bobby s vast limitlessness with the patience and ease of good friendship and the spark of Clare s self-conscious zeal.
As you watch Home (and I hope you do), you can distinguish the challenges that Bobby faces from those that Jonathan deals with. Jonathan s life is full of boundaries. Bobby has none. Bobby s not terribly bright but loves life. The reverse is true of Jonathan. One gets the sense that Bobby could have ended up anywhere and with anyone and that would be fine with him. He would make the best of it. But for now it s Jonathan and Clare, and he s happy to accommodate all.
Anchoring Home is a clutch of vivid and detailed performances. Foremost, Farrell s brave work as Bobby establishes him as that rare Hollywood hunk who isn t afraid to favor art and risk over image, while a radiant Spacek somehow manages to convince again as a young mother. Roberts Jonathan is well-crafted, but the character is almost too snarky and self-absorbed to like. It s easy to fall in a kind of love with Bobby and Clare, who are having so much fun together. Jonathan s a third wheel, and he squeaks.
The moral, if any: Sometimes life lets us choose our family. That s kind of great, isn t it?

Bo List

The most expensive film in Chinese history, Zhang Yimou s Hero has taken a long road to U.S. screens, so much so that the director already has another martial arts epic, House of Flying Daggers, making the festival rounds. American distributor Miramax acquired the film in 2002 and fiddled with it until Quentin Tarantino convinced his studio patrons to release Hero in full form.
It s curious why Miramax took so long, since Hero is an art-house action film in the spirit (and scope) of Ang Lee s commercially successful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Told in flashback, in a series of Rashomon-like tales, Hero centers around a nameless warrior (Jet Li) who has come to the court of the third century B.C. king of the Qin dynasty (soon to China s first emperor) claiming to have killed three assassins plotting against the king. The king is at first impressed, then skeptical, and we get different versions of the truth as the nameless man s story changes.
One problem here is that Li has a personality to match his namelessness. The stone-faced actor is overshadowed by his far more charismatic co-stars, including director Wong Kar-Wai veterans Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung (who appear together in Wong s In the Mood for Love and upcoming 2046) and Crouching Tiger starlet Zhang Ziyi. But Li s blankness fits the tone of a movie that, while impressive on first viewing, doesn t hold up the way Crouching Tiger did. Where Lee s film was driven by an old-fashioned sense of entertainment and romance, Hero is colder and more formal, with color-coded action scenes that are also a series of juxtapositions, comparing swordplay to the likes of music and calligraphy.
Hero is beautiful to watch, with highlights such as a sun-dappled duel between Cheung and Zhang Ziyi amid swirling yellow leaves (which turn blood-red when one combatant perishes); Cheung and Li fighting off a torrent of iron arrows in defense of a rural calligraphy studio; and Li and Leung skipping like stones across an idyllic lake as they pursue each other. As shot by renowned cinematographer Chris Doyle, Hero doesn t have the frenetic romance of Doyle s visuals for Wong Kar-Wai. It s still one of the most visually compelling films you ll see this year.
But you might leave the theater wondering whether the film s action thrills are a little manipulative: This national-origin story endorses peace enforced by power and does so with a worshipful pageantry (there s no irony in the film s title) that can be a little off-putting. n Chris Herrington


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