Monday, January 28, 2008

Essential Cinema - 18

East of Eden

Julie Harris
James Dean
Raymond Massey
Burl Ives
Richard Davalos
Jo Van Fleet
Albert Dekker
Lois Smith
Harold Gordon
Nick Dennis

Elia Kazan

John Steinbeck (book)
Paul Osborn (screenplay)

Ted D. McCord

Family secrets in a rural 1915 California town and the struggles of youth to discover who they are and what is right.

Discovering what life is about by peeling back the layers of our parents to see what came before us. This is a coming of age film that questions all the classic cords, of love, honor, respect and righteousness. The characters in this film are all asking questions and struggling to unravel the truths of life. Some must be discovered and others must be found after being hidden away behind secrets and lies. Almost anyone over the age of 20 can relate to this film and the characters in it. This film deals with the search for love, the love of children by their parents and the desire of children to be worthy.

The beautiful landscape and set design, evoke America at the turn of the century. The direction of Elia Kazan is very good, his use of camera angles and perspective, both visually and from the point of view of the characters is very well done.

With only three films to his credit before his death, James Dean shows why he is an American Icon in this film. His acting is unconventional for its day but you can't take your eyes off of him and his raw emotion. The rest of the cast is equally up to the task and the viewer is drawn into the story waiting for the eventual resolution to the various plot lines that unfold.

The twist of the story is that in the beginning, it appears that Dean's character (Cal) is sporadic and wild with little self control. This is because Cal is haunted by unknown demons from his past. His brother appears to be the perfect son, but the events that unfold in the film leave him a shattered man, with all that he holds dear cast to the wind. Asking questions and struggling to find the truth is the underlying theme of the film.

Near the end of the film there is a biblical reference regarding the title to the film. "Cane slew his brother Able and fled to dwell in the land of Nod, East of Eden". By the time this line is uttered, it makes perfect sense.