'Suburbicon': A Movie with a Message?
By Martha K. Baker
The Coen Brothers' latest offering is complicated to say the least, unsubtle to say the most. Suburbicon floods blood. It pounds with violence. It exploits mid-century modern -- and a child actor. It disregards its effects, which may or may not have been the ones the bros had in mind.
Suburbicon opens with an advertising brochure brought to filmic life to sell a suburb of pasty white people in ticky-tacky houses on a plat. Everything in mid-twentieth century looks so normal -- the finny cars are clean, lawns are push-mowed, and residents are white -- until the Myerses move in. The whites' reactions range from gossip to fencing to fires. That's the macrocosm. The microcosm is over at the Lodges' lodge where two thugs come into the house and chloroform its residents: the man of the house, his boy in crinkle-crepe PJs, a brunette, her blonde sister in a wheelchair, the man's wife. She was hurt in a car accident. She suffers more in the robbery.
The boy, played so attentively by Noah Jupe, watches all this. He also watches his father's betrayal and his father's fiddling around with his aunt, and his aunt's brother's attempts to love him. He is sent out to play catch with the new neighbor boy, whom he can track from his bedroom window. The boys represent, if the Coens can be parsed, the next generation, the one that comes after all the racists and sexists die off. That might be the message, but to get to it, viewers have to swim through the blood and the bombast.
George Clooney directs, very steadily, a pedestrian pace through fire to that idyllic end. As the lead actor -- not Clooney this time -- Matt Damon is robotic, which is the very character of the Dad as written by the Coens, Clooney, and Grant Heslov. Julianne Moore is mother and aunt. Suburbicon may be more than it seems -- or less. Discuss.