My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress 2001: Sissy Spacek in "In the Bedroom"

In the Bedroom begins very romantically: we see a happy couple, teasing and laughing until they are lying under a tree, kissing each other. But the happy, carefree atmosphere of the beginning will soon change into a depressing and gripping story about death, grief, revenge and accusations.

The first part of the movie puts the couple of Frank and Natalie in the main focus. We see them again together at a barbecue at his parents’ house and everything seems to be “typically American”. But soon we discover that Natalie is not only older than Frank, she has two little children and a rowdy husband from whom she is divorcing.

We meet Sissy Spacek’s character Ruth for the first time in the kitchen when Natalie is looking for her. Her character does not actively enter the scene, rather she just seems to enter the screen by accident. The whole atmosphere of the barbecue, with Frank’s father Matt preparing the meat and Ruth standing in the kitchen seems to confirm the impression of a perfect American family. But with the relationship between Frank and Natalie, something new has entered their life and Richard, Natalie’s husband, begins to threaten this safe world.

In her first scene, Sissy Spacek leaves little doubt that Ruth is not too happy about the relationship between Natalie and her son. She is polite to her, she acts friendly, but she does not talk to her except when Natalie speaks to her first and she is also not really interested in her. She doesn’t say anything negative about her but whenever she talks to her husband about the two, she tries to bring logical reasons (from her point of view) against the relationship.

Sissy Spacek makes Ruth a very real woman. She is not a mother full of love, sometimes she even appears to be rather cold but she is always believable in her attempts to do what she thinks is best for her son.

Ruth is also a woman who finds herself alone on her side. Her son won’t talk to her about his relationship, claiming it’s nothing serious and her husband doesn’t seem to mind either – rather, he seems actually proud of his son for having a relationship with the attractive and mature Natalie. Like his son, he doesn’t see any problems with it – she is the one who is concerned about the relationship. Even when Richard and Frank get into a fist fight, Ruth remains the only one who thinks that the relationship should end.

The fist part of the movie does not demand much from Sissy Spacek apart from being concerned about her son. But she does this very realistically in a very subtle performance and already establishes all we need to know about Ruth.

But suddenly, Ruth’s worries are confirmed in the most horrible way and she turns into a symbol for motherly grief and anger which Sissy Spacek flawlessly demonstrates with a heartbreaking facial work that shows all her sorrow and grief in every second of her life.

From now on, the movie focuses on Matt and Ruth and how they react to the murder of their son and how they cope with their sorrow in their own ways, alienating each other in the process. Both are unable to speak about what happened and retreat into their own worlds and silence becomes the only communication they know.

The main problem that Sissy Spacek as Ruth faces is that her character always stays in the background for most of the time. Even in the part of the movie that deals with the parent’s grief, it’s Tom Wilknson’s Matt whom we follow and who gets to show a real character arc. Sissy Spacek never gets such chances to shine but she still makes sure to use every on-screen moment wisely.

Her quiet, chain-smoking grieving mother is surely a hunting and unforgettable image. But it’s the question if it’s really Sissy’s acting or the image of a grieving mother that leaves such a devastating impression. The image of Ruth, watching TV, apparently dropping out of the world, may be very powerful but it doesn’t demand much acting.

But Sissy successfully shows how Ruth more and more retreats into her own world because of her grief. She is not able to communicate with her husband about that – every time she talks to him, there seems to be a kind of accusation in her tone. She is angry that he is going out, talking to friends. Ruth is trapped in her grief and silently demands the same from him. She has no outlet for her feelings. Everything is inside her, her hate, her anger, her frustration, her deep sorrow. She has no one to talk to about this, instead, her anger simply grows inside of her while she keeps watching TV and smoking cigarettes.

Ruth is a woman who needs to blame someone for what happened. When she and Matt talk to a lawyer after a first trail against Natalie’s husband, we can see how she would like to put the blame on Natalie. When she gets angry that Richard might not go to prison, she shouts “He killed our son. That was no accident!”. She says these words not really loud, rather perplexed and helpless because the thought of the murder being an accident is so absurd that she doesn’t want to say it. The idea that Richard might walk around freely is just horrible to her – Sissy Spacek wonderfully shows that Ruth seems to feel more and more trapped because she has no way to control this situation in any way.

She also shows that the grief she has is always there. When they are visiting friends in their cottage it’s always obvious that her smile is just a façade.

But it’s not only the grief about the death of her son that is keeping Ruth so silent and tormented. She tells a priest that she is also feeling incredibly angry and we see how much sadness and frustration is really inside of her and that she doesn’t know how to handle it. When the priest tells her about the dead child of another woman and says that the child drowned, she simple answers “Oh”. She doesn’t say anything more but Sissy Spacek shows that for Ruth, this cannot be compared to the murder of her son because that was a death that could have been avoided if the others had just listened to her concerns right from the beginning.

But it also the fact that the killer of her son is still free. When she actually meets him in a supermarket, it becomes clear that she can’t return to a normal life as long as he is around.

All of the feelings inside of Ruth finally come out in a big fight with Matt. Ruth says everything that is torturing her and she openly blames Matt for her son’s death because he encouraged the relationship while Ruth was alwas the one who wanted it to end. She even accuses Matt of having wanted Natalie himself and that Frank only died because Matt liked the idea of having her around. We now see that the anger against her husband is troubling Ruth just as much as the mourning of her son. Sissy Spacek is not afraid to show Ruth’s unlikable side in this fight. It’s clear that Matt is the more sensible person, the movie openly takes his side but Sissy Spacek shows that grief is not a logical thing. In her sorrow, Ruth needs someone to blame, she needs an explanation why it happened.

Sissy Spacek surely gives a fascinating, subtle and honest performance despite the fact that her character is very underwritten and she more than once vanishes behind Tom Wilkinson’s more demanding performance as a grieving father and troubled husband.

Still, Ruth is a haunting and unforgettable portrayal that gets

1 comment:

joe burns said...

I agree. Really strong performance.