I loved this movie. And I loved watching the DVD at our Camp Sherman cabin on my almost-new Emachines 6809 laptop. The only drawback to Emachines movie viewing is the tinny built-in speakers. After our first laptop DVD experience I immediately ordered some small battery-powered Creative TravelSound external speakers, which connect to the headphone plug. I can highly recommend these little wonders. Now we enjoy a crystal-clear picture with great sound.
Laurel meandered around the cabin much of the time I was watching “House of Sand and Fog” because previews we had seen in a movie theatre caused her to utter her favorite Movie Damnation: “It doesn’t sound uplifting; I don’t want to see it.” She did watch the ending with me and admitted that the acting of Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly was masterful. But as the characters headed toward the tragic ends that the trajectory of the movie made clear was inevitable, Laurel uttered her second favorite Movie Damnation: “I don’t think this is going to have a happy ending.”
No, the film didn’t. And you know what? That’s life. My cinematic embracing of this unarguable fact accounts for 90% of the disagreements Laurel and I have over movies. She wants a movie to show her the best side of life. I’m happy when a movie artistically shows me life in any of its many guises: good, bad, beautiful, ugly, violent, peaceful, happy, sad. Whatever.
“House of Sand and Fog” is about two people who dearly want a house. They are both good people, though not without their foibles and weaknesses, which we all have. Both of these good people try to do the right thing, for the right reasons, in as right a way as they can manage. And out of all this righteous moral striving comes: disaster. Why do bad things happen to good people? Because they do. Shit happens, even when there’s no seeming source of excrement around. It just falls out of the sky. Plop.
Therein lies the fascination of “House of Sand and Fog” for me. I started off watching this film listening to the inner voice that inhabits my usual frame of mind. “Oh, yeah, I’m rooting for the Jennifer Connelly character. She’s fallen on hard times. Who hasn’t? Sure, she should have opened her mail and read the foreclosure notices from the county. But heck, we all make mistakes, and it isn’t right that she should have her house taken away.”
Hence, I figured that if Jennifer Connelly’s character, Kathy, is a good gal, then Ben Kingsley’s character, Massoud Amir Behrani, must be a bad guy, because he is Kathy’s antagonist. Isn’t that how it works in movies? Isn’t that how a screenwriter and director keep us interested in the plot, as we root for good to triumph and bad to be defeated? And isn’t that how we usually look at life itself, as being populated with good guys/gals and bad guys/gals who fall into neatly defined moral buckets? Bush bad (or good). Kerry good (or bad). Neat and clean. No fuzziness allowed.
“House of Sand and Fog,” though, is all about fuzziness. Lines blurring. Good people doing bad things for good reasons that have bad outcomes. Good, bad, good, bad. Who is which, what is which? About a third of the way through the movie I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to place these characters into my usual cut and dried categories. Which was liberating.
For now I could simply watch the movie unfold. I wasn’t rooting for anyone anymore. I didn’t care if Kathy got the house or if Massoud got the house. That didn’t matter. Kathy, Massoud, and those attached to them were part of something greater than themselves, something that transcended right and wrong, good and bad.
Call it karma. Call it providence. Call it cause and effect. Call it life. This movie made me feel that this is the way things really are. We place white hats and black hats on people, not reality. Reality, real life, has its own ways of going about things. Once in a while we get glimpses of the Truth that lies hidden beneath Appearances. “House of Sand and Fog” is such a glimpse.