Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Patrick Steele's "True Nature": Sometimes You Can't Ever Go Back Home
True Nature (2010)
Written and Directed by Patrick Steele
True Nature Official Film Site
I've seen three films this year that tackle a missing loved one's surprise return from a tragic disappearance. The trio is comprised of Mike Flanagan's Absentia, Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene, and completed by Patrick Steele's multiple award-winning film True Nature. Each film employed completely different approaches to storytelling and aesthetics. However, the central focus, a victim coping with the challenges of reintegration into family and society, was resolute.
Each film succeeded because the portrayal of a character's struggle with internal demons, conflicting emotions and ideals, and the toll on the families left behind, makes for some stimulating psychological and social discussions. Even though most of us have (hopefully) not experienced a similarly traumatic situation, we may still be able to relate in different ways. For example: going off to college, being exposed to new ideas, and returning home to find a home life that's now completely alien. Or maybe you reside on the other end, as a person with unchanging views now faced with this unrecognizable "changed" person. These explorations become relatable to the average person because we can put ourselves in the shoes of the missing, as well as those left behind. Perhaps the most notable thing to take from these stories is that those left behind usually expect things to quickly return to "normal" when that is clearly not ever going to be possible.
True Nature is a psychological thriller with heavy dramatic elements in the mould of the work of Polanski. It doesn't reveal itself as a true horror piece until the third act. I'll not go into detail in order to keep everything a surprise, but things take a nasty turn for the worse by the film's end. The story involves Marianne Pascal (Marianne Porter), a young lady of great promise living comfortably in a well-to-do community. She's an athlete and student, and does everything expected of her. She's at odds with her mother, Becky (Carolyn McCormick), a woman who won't allow her to carve her own identity. This is most evident in her mother's disapproval of Stephen (John Woodruff), Marianne's boyfriend who is clearly not "good enough" for Marianne, although Becky never comes right out and says so. Stephen tries to convince Marianne to stand up to her family, but Marianne doesn't have much of a backbone. She lives her life in constant struggle between what she wants, and what's expected of her.
Marianne's father, Reg (Reg Land), is under great stress from some illegal moves at his investment firm. He is seen meeting with some very shady individuals with connections to the defense industry. Clearly they are the wrong people to piss off, and a deal has definitely gone sour. When Marianne goes off for a late night run, she never returns. That is, until a year later, when she shows up in the middle of the night naked covered in cuts, bruises, and mud with no memory of where she's been the past year. The remainder of the film focuses on her adjustment amidst her father's downfall. Is her disappearance the result of her father's terrible choices?
Even though some of the central themes are similar among the three films, the narrative approach of True Nature sets itself apart. By alluding to the family being implicit in Marianne's disappearance, there's a dynamic working in a much different way. Where in the other two films we felt the characters, however painful, wanted to reconnect in some way. Here, we feel Marianne pushing away even further as her father's guilt becomes evident. Even reunited with her family, we find her further isolated, her mistrust growing, and her true self slowly revealing itself as she gets closer to the truth. She has doubts that her best interests are at the heart of her family's decisions. Her disappearance is almost symbolic in that her family was trying to extinguish her identity. Her banished body returns ready to fight with a mind poised for battle. We first see evidence of her resistance in small ways: sneaking out in the middle of the night to meet Stephen, or refusing a party hosted by Becky. Soon, these small defiant moments culminate in a horrific climax where she completely breaks away from everything holding her back.
True Nature may appear the least ambiguous of the three aforementioned films, but it's no less mysterious. We are given glimpses of what happened to Marianne with the use of unsettling flashbacks and nightmares. Some of these sequences are among the most effective I've seen, largely because of the techniques employed by the DP's, Marco Fargnoli and Evan Nesbitt, respectively. They are shot in an almost surreal manner, certainly artistic and disorienting. Quite frankly, it's the way these kinds of things SHOULD be shot. The cinematography in general is superb with some stunningly composed shots and lighting. It's no surprise that it's been getting some awards on that front.
That's not to say True Nature succeeds on technical achievements alone. The story is compelling, and the family dynamics play out very well operating just over the seedy underbelly of illegal business dealings. The film is anchored by its cast, and especially Porter who balances just enough pathos that we care about her character Marianne, but offering moments of determined menace to remind us something is slowly boiling within. Whereas her surface scars may have healed, internally, she is clearly still a vengeful wreck.
I'd offer that True Nature is ultimately about the responsibilities of parenting. Families are expected to look after one another. They should nurture and help each member achieve his or her full potential. What is witnessed here is a complete failure of the family unit despite the appearance of comfort and privilege. The film's ultimate fury resides in the fact that someone in the family sold everyone else out for a quick buck. The chicken has come back to roost, and home has become a very deadly place, indeed.
True Nature Trailer