Film’s Essay: August: Osage County
A couple and descendant(s): that is the model of a family. The first is supposed to lead the latter, the latter is supposed to learn the ways of the world from the first. The circle goes round and round forming an invisible spiral that doesn’t show a beginning or an end, although its line has the potential to venture into other directions, even without stopping the nature of growth and expansion of the spiral. For most of us family is the source of education through which each one learns values, moulds its own character and sets a particular perception of life for oneself, among other features. It is an essential education that one carries through one’s whole life if there is nothing to be changed however, amidst the many efforts that parents do for their offspring there is a silent education that passes-on to the learner without intention, through action itself, to become patterns which are invisible to one’s eyes most of the time because they act as a natural response from ourselves disguising as an innate conduct and hiding its real nature of conditional behaviour. Whereas some patterns may be positive for the next generation, others can be utterly destructive, so much that a person could ruin its life without even noticing it.
In August: Osage County (2013) by John Wells the lines of the spiral are thick and wild for it narrates the dynamics of a familiar system joined up by one dreadful incident that moves the whole family to one place where their deepest problems are exposed crashing against one another. The crisis of each character is depicted in contraposition to the differences of their lives showing that even if they have come to achieve a life path unlike the other, the essence of their conflicts come from the same source. When Beverly, Violet’s alcoholic husband, commits suicide the whole Weston family come to their house in Oklahoma to support her in her grief. However, their daughters arrive to a world where her strong but dysfunctional mother unravels, whilst taking drugs, exposing their differences in lifestyles and revealing secrets that turn out to be the foundations for their deepest problems.
“‘Life is very long’– T.S. Eliot, not the first person to say it, and certainly not the first person to think it, but he’s given credit for because he bothered to write it down. Now, if you say it, you have to say his name after it…‘Life is very long’– T.S. Eliot, absolutely goddamn right. Violet…my wife, she takes pills, sometimes a great many, facts are my wife takes pills and I drink, that’s the bargain we’ve stuck, a little paragraph in our marriage contract, so rather than once more vow of abstinence with my fingers crossed, I’ve chosen to turn my life over to a higher power, enjoy the next of the hiring class”
These are the lines that open August: Osage County, mixed with images of the open fields of Oklahoma alluring to great extensions, the open world where perhaps many of these cases exist. Next, the face of Beverly appears on the screen, drinking and talking about his wife to Johana, a Native American woman whom is about to hire. “Life is very long” indeed, if you share T.S. Eliot’s point of view, he was an American writer who emigrated to England where he married an English woman, his relationship was filled with conflict mainly because of her health problems and his instability, some resources say that he thought of himself to be “very dependant upon women”. In his poem The Hollow Men (1925) he expresses that “Life is very long”.
Beverly is similar to Eliot regarding marriage and his position around women. Just as he presented himself, he is a writer with a drinking problem married to a woman who has mouth cancer and uses her sickness as an excuse to fill her mouth with drug pills. Their marriage is far from being functional, besides their addictions they live in darkness at the house, separated from one another, alone; he is quiet and introverted, whereas Violet is a headstrong, impulsive and irreverent woman therefore, it is easy to understand why in their relationship Violet is the dominant figure. They have three absent daughters and so his family is more like the “female society” upon which T.S. Eliot was said to be dependant. The former explanation of whom is given credit and why, after a phrase or work, talks about the authors in a similar way in which parents are the authors of their children –to a certain extent– for they pass the knowledge to their children, and have the possibility to make the life extension of those teachings “very long”, almost as a tradition, for these pass from generation to generation.
Barbara, Ivy and Karen are the Weston’s daughters. They come to their parents’ house after their father’s suicide. They arrive to support their mother but end up themselves in a whirlpool of secrets and problems that threaten to destroy their fictitious screens of wellness. The first to arrive is Ivy, she is somehow independent but not completely, she remained close to their parents’ house to take care of them. She is introverted and silent, just like her father, uninterested in vanity and appearances, and had not acknowledged the existence of a boyfriend so far, even more she had health problems that didn’t wish to disclose to her sisters because she didn’t want to give her mother “another excuse to treat me like some damaged thing”. However, her tranquillity and easiness was a screen to disguise the utter frustration of remaining close to their parents giving up her desires and dreams:
“Ivy: I can’t perpetuate this meets of family or sisterhood anymore, we’re just people, some of us accidentally connected by genetics, a random selection of cells
Barbara: When did you get so cynical?
Ivy: That’s funny coming from you
Barbara: Well, bitter…yes, but…random selection of cells?
Ivy: Maybe my cynicism came with the realisation that the responsibility of caring for our parents was mine alone.”
Karen is the youngest of the three; she lives in Florida and seems to be often unstable in her relationships. She arrives to the funeral with her fiancée whilst Barbara asserts “he must be this year’s man”. Karen behaves as alienated from the family issues and singled-focused in her own life, she rejects the reality around her by expressing her strangely found positiveness, day-dreaming about her future with this new boyfriend and telling stories of how she found her way out of the darkness she was in. Although she can be perceived as banal her weak points show their face for an instant whilst discussing with Barbara:
“Karen: I can do without a speech
Barbara: Where is he?
Karen: Out in the car, we’re leaving back to Florida tonight, now. Me and Steve together, you wanna give me some grief about that?
Barbara: Oh, you wait a goddamn minute.
Karen: And you better find out from Gene exactly what went on before you start pointing fingers, because I doubt Gene’s blameless in all of this. And I’m not saying that I blame her, just because I said she is not blameless it doesn’t mean I have blamed her, I’m just saying that she might share in the responsibility, it’s not cutting dry, it lives where everything lives, somewhere in the middle. Where the rest of us live, everyone but you!
Karen: Well, I’m not angel myself, I’ve done some things I’m not proud of, things you’ll never know about, and I may have to do some things I may not be proud of again, ‘cause… life just puts you in a corner that way. Anyway, you’ve had your own hash to settle before you start making speeches to the rest of us. And come January I’ll be in Belize, doesn’t that sound nice?”
Barbara, the eldest, has a very strong character, just as her mother; she is a straightforward person, dominating and, as she puts it, a little bit bitter. She is the only one that got married and has a daughter however at the moment of his father’s tragedy she was separated from her husband, though he supports her and joins her in the trip. She was very much expected, when she arrived her mother came quickly to the door to receive and hug her. During the whole visit Barbara fought constantly with Violet and tried to “run the house”, but her strength and dominance were only a cover wall for the big issues she had crashed against to within her own family:
“Bill: You do not fight fair
Barbara: Seem that gets me. Grow up, while you are dying your hair and going through your fifth puberty the world is falling apart and our kid can’t handle it.
Bill: I think she’s just trying to deal with this goddamn madhouse you’ve dragged her into.
Barbara: This madhouse is my home…
Bill: Yeah, think about that statement for a second, while…
Barbara: Gene, is here with me because this is a family event
Bill: Gene is here because she is a buffer, between you and the sheen insanity of your mother…
Barbara: You’d have a lot more credibility, if you had any credibility. You’re an easy mark
Bill: You’re so goddamn self-righteous, you know that?
Barbara: Surely, you must have realised when you started poking Pippi Longstocking, that you were due for some self-righteousness, just as smidge of indignation on my part
Bill: Maybe I split because of it
Barbara: Oh, is this your confession, then? When you finally unload all, hmm?
Bill: Your thoughtful Barbara but you’re not open, you’re passionate but you’re hard, you’re a good, decent, funny, wonderful woman and I love you but…you’re a pain in the ass!”
Throughout the scene, Barbara and Bill seem like a younger version of Beverly and Violet, even physically and not only that, in several scenes similarities between Violet and Barbara are shown. Whilst each of the daughters has a special feature that reflects Violet’s character it is in Barbara that we find the greatest likeness, from their manner of expression to their reactions in certain situations. The three women have problems with men, just as their mother has, they have strong characters but their way to deal with it took different paths. Whereas Barbara is almost the renewed image of her mother, Ivy went for behaving like her father and Karen tried to do the opposite, presumably although perhaps unconsciously, to break the pattern; one example of the previous is: at the beginning of the film, whilst Beverly is giving the introduction to their new maid, Violet gets up from the bed in the darkness of her room, later when Barbara is about to receive the news about his dad, she does almost exactly the same thing. The latter is the only one who can confront her mother because they share the character and temperament that makes them strong women, but with such characteristics similar problems in their relationships have come along: distance, unhappiness and misunderstandings. By the end Ivy helps Barbara –although without willing to do so– to realise that she has become like her mother:
“Barbara: Ivy, listen…
Ivy: You will never see me again
Barbara: Matty Fae told me and I didn’t know what to do, I was trying to protect you
Ivy: I will go away anyway, I’ll still go away
Barbara: This is not my fault, mom told you, it wasn’t me it was mom
Ivy: There‘s no difference!”
Barbara’s behaviour is clearly the result of a pattern that was unacknowledged, it is only when she becomes aware of the similarity that she can take action on it, without awareness it is difficult to change the only sort of education that has accompany us throughout life. Furthermore, this film shows that sometimes it can be difficult to recognise the faults that we’ve made due our education, to have the strength to look at them as something to be changed and actually do it. Several times Violet talks about her childhood and early adulthood, exposing the difficulty of her life, but it is ever so clear the influence of her mother when she tells her daughters about the time when she wanted a pair of cowboy boots to conquer a young man’s heart, but her mother mocked her by giving her a pair of men’s work boots covered in mud and she declares that her mother was a “mean, nasty mean old lady…I suppose that’s where I get it from”. This is the example of an intrinsic silent education one is susceptible to learn, not by will but by way of constant interaction with it.
Throughout the film these hints about Violet’s difficulties, from family violence to economic problems, do not justify her but make us understand that as she lived her life and learned from her also dysfunctional mother, she became also dysfunctional due the situations she lived and the way she thought she had to respond, and as the cycle went on, her daughters inherited the core of the problems and thus translated it to their ways of life. The rupture of Violet and Barbara’s marriages, and the inability of Ivy and Karen to find a husband can be pointed out to: problems with the masculine figure; related to their women’s perspective and behaviour around men. The siblings learned to be strong and dominating over men through their mother but each of them expressed it or supressed it in their own way.
Thus, August: Orange County, shows one of many examples of how the dynamics of a family affect all its members, and as generations come and go, those patterns or teachings remain with each one of the members for as long as they allow them to. Our minds have the capacity to learn through actions and repetition, so when parents go through the process of educating, us as children unconsciously absorb that information making it our own, and later in life, react the same way when we face similar problems, even to what is expected of the world and how we attract things to our life. As a result, family can actually knock us down when one is not prepared to deal with one’s history but to remain in the same lines of perspective and input that bring terrible results to the several circumstances of life.
It is not with an eye of judgement that we can liberate ourselves from the heritage but by way of understanding and objectivity, so we can see the reflection of our own selves in those who raised us and how each of our unconscious actions affect our surroundings, thence one might utterly endeavour to be awake for when something has to be changed. When the patterns are positive, the development of the heirs is just alike, but when the patterns are negative, just as we reviewed in the film, the consequences might be even self-destructive. Only when an individual, as an external observer, becomes aware of the patterns has the possibility to take distance and transform them.