“The world was not round, not from where I stood.”
My Father Die opens with at least three different kinds of myth. First there is the voice-over narration, casting its flat-earth perspective “downstream into the mouth of the Mississippi, into the heart of what I call home.” Then there is the close-up detail of Rubens’ painting that depicts Saturn devouring his son – an image that both foreshadows and universalises what is to come. Lastly there is the prologue, differentiated by its crisp monochrome from the rest of the film, and set in the Edenic childhood of pre-adolescent Asher (Gabe Asher) and his older brother Chester (Chester Rushing), as they row, like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, along the Mississippi bayou, before heading off to pick up Chester’s girlfriend Nana, with a plan for Asher to lose his virginity to her. Innocence will indeed be lost, as this primal scene is violently interrupted by the arrival of the boys’ father Ivan (Gary Stretch). With his own stake in Nana, Vietnam vet turned motorcycle clubber Ivan hits Asher so hard that he leaves him permanently deaf – and then, in a drunken, jealous rage, brutally murders Chester.
Years later, deaf-mute Asher (now played by Joe Anderson) is a manchild – an arrested boy in an adult’s body. Even his narration is delivered, eerily, in the last voice he had: that of his 12-year-old self. Asher is still living in the past, still in love with Nana (Candace Smith), and regularly flashes back to his last day with Chester, hunting for a legendary one-eyed ‘gator (his memories a nostalgic idyll in black and white). When news arrives that Ivan (Garry Stretch) has been released from jail early, Asher rushes out with his brother’s wolfskin hat and rifle to exact his Oedipal revenge, an eye for an ear – except that Ivan is not an easy man to kill. Meanwhile Detective Johnson (John Schneider) is left to follow the trail of bodies that the unleashed father leaves in his wake.
Here the one-eyed monster is all at once a storied alligator, the cyclopean Ivan, and a figure for the male sexual drive that is repeatedly, aggressively disrupted in My Father Die. For his feature debut, writer/director Sean (son of Pierce) Brosnan has crafted a swampy myth of tragic family dysfunction – and of bestial nature that must be contained. It is a lived-in, down-and-dirty artifice, as well as a love letter to Night of the Hunter, Beasts of the Southern Wild and even Raising Arizona, with shades of every early album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. In Brosnan’s heady, exhilaratingly messy movie, where death is always close to sex and a son does not ultimately fall far from the tree, all these archetypes, allegories and allusions help us see the world differently: if not round, then certainly not flat either.
My Father Die is coming to the UK in 2017.
© Anton Bitel