Mar 302009
Authors: Marjorie Hamburger

Director Todd Field’s 2001 masterpiece “In the Bedroom” is a captivating story that revolves not around the plot but rather around the characters. Nominated for five Oscars, including best actress, best actor and best picture, this film allows the performers to guide the narrative.

Set in a small town in Maine, 21-year-old Frank Fowler (Nick Stahl) spends the summer with his parents, Ruth (Sissy Spacek) and Matt (Tom Wilkinson). Frank finds romance with a somewhat older woman, Natalie (Marisa Tomei). Natalie is trying to raise two small children amid threats from her abusive husband, whom she plans to divorce.

Frank is the only child of Ruth and Matt, who are an upper-middle class couple. Ruth is a choir teacher at the local high school, and Matt is a family doctor.

What initially appears to be a love story between Frank and Natalie quickly becomes a tale of grief, tragedy and revenge. A grave and unexpected event occurs before the film reaches its half point, drastically altering the mood of the plot and the people involved. This unforeseen action leads to the real story of “In the Bedroom.” It is the account of two people, Ruth and Matt, who are left in perpetual anguish.

The title describes the secrets that go on behind closed doors — the true feelings that linger when two people are at such a desperate stage in life.

Ruth and Matt are left to deal with their own marriage and the compilation of emotions that have been hidden under the surface for decades. When a traumatic event occurs, those left behind often reveal their true nature. Relationships become irreparable.

The brutal sincerity behind each character is what makes this film so eerily accurate. Whether the characters are sitting in silence for minutes or yelling at each other from opposite sides of the house, their dialogue and body language are painfully honest. This is a movie in which a single slap on the face evokes more surprise than the total violent scenes scattered throughout the rest of the film.

Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson’s performances in this film are incredibly profound, earnest and realistic acting. For a movie of this caliber, “In the Bedroom” has been swept under the rug when it should instead be praised for its ingenuity and sincerity.

Staff writer Marjorie Hamburger can be reached at

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