Culture Rover

#35 - Miss America

Wandered into House of Sand and Fog on hotel HBO last week. This strange, overblown film is not very interesting as a story in of itself, but the movie wound up seeming like a gigantic allegory for contemporary United States imperialism.

The lead woman, a recovering alcoholic played by Jennifer Connelly, inherited her father's house only to have it seized by her Northern California county through a bureaucratic error involving a mistake about back taxes. She refuses to give the place up to its new owner, an Iranian colonel (played by Ben Kingsley -- oh Gandhi, what has become of you?!) who moved his family to the U.S. after the fall of the Shah.

Improbable plot twists ensue, including imprudent actions by a bumbling deputy sheriff (played by Ron Eldard) who has an affair with Connelly's character as his marriage falls apart.

Kingsley's character keeps portraying Connelly's character as a reckless, undisciplined floozy. Lots of fog rolls in and out among the pretty sunsets and swells of soundtrack music. California! The American Dream! Who dreams it? Who gets to realize it? Does the house of sand and fog at the end of the continent have room for everyone? Yadda, yadda, yadda.

The film ends bleakly, and the allegorical point -- especially as one flipped back and forth from the film to the news channels portraying even bleaker news from various points Middle East -- seemed to be that the United States, represented by Connelly's character, is reckless and selfish, lost and manipulative, bringing pain and death to everyone she touches.

The allusions seemed to suggest that whatever good America can bring to other places, she also is bringing a lot of misery: bombings, ill-conceived plans for "stability," economic and social dislocation, cultural loss, and the lot of it.

And this is not just happening "out there," beyond the nation's boundaries. Watched allegorically, House of Sand and Fog seemed to hint that the rot is within -- in the floorboards and in the rusted nails, the loss of family commitments and not paying attention to those taxes that keep the society going.

Not that the film makes any of this explicit. I'm probably making it all up. But in the allegorical mood -- the overblown feel of fog and sunsets, of continental endings and beginnings, of American and Iranian confrontations, of crumbling marriages and immigrants denied their turn to assimilate -- one can see a nation flailing about, lost and alone, unwittingly (or wittingly?) suffocating the hopes and dreams of those who seek to follow in or out of her path.

14 December 2004

Back to #34

Go to #36