Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Never Sang for My Father

We’ve all had relationships with people like the father figure in the film: that stubborn old fool, stuck in his ways, who is unwilling to give into anything. The type who doesn’t understand the times, has a particular way of doing everything, and knows what is best for everyone. Most of us have felt like the man’s son-harboring feelings of anger, disdain, and resentment towards the old man while simultaneously feeling responsible to him with the hope that he will someday reciprocate our love. I Never Sang for My Father is a film that understands this family dynamic and the result is a profoundly moving and humanistic film with two wonderful star performances. Gene (Gene Hackman) is a recently widowed professor, just entering his forties, who sees what may be his last opportunity in his life to start anew. He has taken up with a divorced doctor in California and wishes to move out there to remarry. When he makes his weekly visit to his parents, he tells his mother who agrees it to be the right move, but when it comes to notifying his father (Melvyn Douglas) he balks-the old man has already made it clear that such a move would be disastrous (he just didn’t add that the move would be disastrous for himself). Soon, the mother passes on and his moving plans begin to seem like a pipe dream. His father will now need him more than forever and will not give in to any sort of compromise. This situation will now lead to a decision that Gene has been avoiding for his entire life-a decision to leave his father in order to pursue his own life. Released in 1970 with Gilbert Cates directing from an Academy Award nominated script by Robert Anderson who adapted his own play, I Never Sang for My Father is a triumph on several levels. The performances are top notch, but this is really the story of father and son. Gene Hackman, who was 40 years old when the film came out though relatively new to pictures, is perfect at conveying all the emotions his character goes through. Melvyn Douglas, who was at the end of a prolific career, generates the same feelings in us that the Hackman character feels, as we are reminded of that old codger in our own lives. When the two are together alone on the screen (which is often) the rapport is strong and we feel like we are watching a real father-son drama play out in front of us. The directing of the film is also worth mentioning. Stylistic choices were made, and such techniques as narration, montage, close-up are used which brings greater attention to the film. The dialogue, though heightened, seems natural and real. The result is a realistic view of an ultimately sad relationship that most of us can say we relate to.