American Pastoral (2016)
Director: Ewan McGregor
I don’t know what to rate American Pastoral.
I haven’t read Roth’s novel – as a Literature undergraduate, I was supposed to read it and I actually have two copies of the novel on my bookshelf. I’m a huge fan of McGregor, so when his directorial debut came out in the year of my English teaching debut, I expected great things – particularly when the novel itself is on every list of books to read before you die….
McGregor plays Swede, the all-American college star, turned naval hero, turned casanova who marries Dawn, (played by Connelly) the beauty queen. Their perfect American life falls apart when their beloved daughter Merry (played by Fanning) grows up and becomes too liberal. What begins with a speech impediment, turns into a violent hatred towards her conservative parents – especially her mother, who she perceives as a beautiful threat. As she grows into a teenager, she becomes radicalised by violent terrorist group in New York and then disappears, breaking both of her parents’ hearts’.
I struggled to empathise with Merry’s character; Her father’s glove factory refused to outsource their production to countries such as India and China, refused to outsource their production and their employment workers were 80% negro. She killed people and confined herself to solitude… by the end of the film, were we supposed to feel compassion for her?
Connelly played the role of a confused mother extremely well, particularly when she suffered her breakdown. Her reaction towards Merry’s disappearance as she accepted within herself that her daughter was never coming back and also, perhaps that her daughter had never loved her, was incredible to watch.
I’m a huge fan of Alexandre Desplat’s scores and I couldn’t fault it here in American Pastoral.
Many viewers and reviewers refer to American Pastoral as a social commentary. As she grew up, Merry became disillusioned with the world which she saw on TV as seemingly coming apart – very similar to how we must all feel every day. She strongly sympathized with the Civil Rights Movement (especially its more radical elements, such as the Black Power Movement) and the Vietnam anti-war movement. She went from spewing hatred at President Johnson’s image on the family’s TV set to regularly taking the train into New York to commiserate with like-minded radicals. She talks about rebelling against all authority figures (including her conservative parents) and the need for a revolution in the U.S. However to me, she just seems like a white girl whining about other people’s problems and causing unnecessary suffering to other people, as well as herself.
McGregor, as always was incredible. His determination to try and keep his family together no matter what it took was inspiring, even though it was probably his love for his daughter that may have been the catalyst for his daughter’s radicalisation. This is never really explained – there are plenty of loose ends: her therapist, her mother, the mysterious Rita.