BRATTLEBORO >> As "Krisha" begins, we are staring at the face of a more-than middle-aged woman with white hair. She has clear and forceful eyes, and the severity of her expression caused me to think of an ancient Nordic warrior. Yet, the mouth trembles a bit, as though we realize this being is strengthening herself to face an imminent battle. For that is exactly what awaits her.
The battleground is an affluent large home in a Texan suburb, likely not too far from Austin (or in Central Texas). I have seen such homes, having lived in Texas for a number of years. They have lots of cold space, the now-famous "granite" counters in the kitchen (this one was a monstrous 'wrap-around' type, nearly completing a circle), and lots of yard space outside.
The family is celebrating (the humongous turkey soon to appear, would suggest Thanksgiving, but it can appear on most any festive occasion, there), and our Nordic warrior finds her way to the inner sanctum of the family, only after a number of fits and starts — wrong entrance — accident in the grass — and barking guard dogs at the right door, like so many Cerberuses protecting the hell beyond. And of course, that very hell, is certainly inside.
The Clan is within, and they are busy with all of the foolish activities with which only the mindless can waste time. Young men are arm-wrestling, as though the winner would redeem his entire life through such efforts. A man is receiving help from a more technologically-knowledgeable fellow, finding, to his amazement (and perhaps dismay), that he does not have to read twenty hundred pages of instructions for this adjustment, but only needs to know how to connect one cable to the correct devices. Sports is on the central TV screen, blaring its momentary victories, and spectators are all enthusiastically plugged in. The beyond-commodious home reflects the range and extent of the most obvious type of material wealth and possessions, all strongly accented by the vacuous activity of most of the individuals with whom we are presented.
Members of the family greet Krisha when she appears, and all seems just rosy on the surface. We suspect already, that things are not going to converge in an endlessly happy procession of events. Our sixth sense informs us of this.
Krisha speaks with the husband of the woman of this home, who is her own sister. The man admits that he cannot stand the vast quantity of dogs that his wife has acquired over their marriage, but somehow, puts up with it all. He also indicates, darkly, to Krisha, that she is like a bird who has collided with too many windshields, and that cars are now faster, and her wings are weaker. This follows Krisha's avowal that she has been healing herself, and is in the process of trying to become "a better human being." (I have used that line myself.) We feel that Krisha is honest, but still in a shaky position. This portrait of her becomes further reinforced, when we view her alone in her room, taking pills from a large travelling apothecary of her own; and then, too, we find her with a liquor bottle, downing its contents in so many swills.
Krisha makes the forced attempt to corner her grown-up son, Trey, in a private room, soon after she arrives. She wishes to "reconnect" with him now, since her private difficulties have kept her absent from his life for so many years, on and off, as we can project her likely narrative. Trey is unresponsive to his mother's rather desperate movements towards him. She tries to convince him that he is neglecting his 'inner love,' which is film-making. (Instead, he is majoring in Business Admin.) Trey finally blurts out, with much repressed anger, "Has it ever occurred to you that I might happen to like Business Administration?!" He storms out, and leaves Krisha defeated — her first and most important foray into the fray, unsuccessful.
Krisha Fairchild's performance and portrayal of a variety of emotional states is impressive, over the course of the film. The music, during many of the sequences, has a deliberate jarring and anxiety-causing effect. (One thinks of such a master of such music, Bernard Herrmann, if transferred to a higher level.) There is a time when Krisha walks around and around that infamous "granite-topped" counter space, over and over, as though she is lost in a repeating circle from which there is no escape. This, finally, does seem to be the director's (Trey Edward Shults) definitive message to us: Once an alcoholic, the way is down, and there is going to be a great deal of Hell to pay, no matter what your efforts to reform.
There is a scene near the end with her sister, who contends that she has defended Krisha's presence at this meant-to-be jovial family gathering time. "They are all scared of you," she spouts out to her, like a truth bullet. "I love you, but you have a lot of fixing to do." This dialogue occurs after an incident (not to be disclosed here) which has virtually wrecked the entire Clan's Happy Celebration of Material Goods, Surface Camaraderie, and The Good Life.
And here this critic must take issue with the purpose of this film. The ending shots are so hopeless — Krisha has managed to further destroy any hope of peace — albeit of a surface type — that the family may have yet reestablished, after she displays a great show of rage, when she cannot compel her son to love her — that we must wonder why we are being subjected to such a total failure of a human soul.
I well understand that the Cleavers of the '50s, and such fabricated families, have been under severe attack since the "Realistic" '60s showed us how things were, outside of white suburbia where everyone had realized the American Dream and more — but this dark corrective of our times, does not seem to me to point the way to the proper future — for films, filmmakers, or viewers, alike. We live in a society where we now know a great deal of mental health conditions — they have all been so neatly labeled for us by the masters and are found in their medical directories — that we have no doubt we are at major risk of falling victim so one of the numerous tragic conditions, partly induced by mind, and partly by biology and genetic codes — from which we can never hope to escape. Once you are diagnosed, let's say, as Bipolar, ADHD, or OBS, your service is established for all time. You will take those prescriptions, and they had better help you to recover a degree of balance and peace, or by god, you are a lost case.
However, it is also true that there are services and support systems to help such people to think they can do a bit better, than what we are shown to be Krisha's fall into the pit. Because if we can't improve, then why keep trying to even make the effort? Krisha attempts to call a male boyfriend or ex-husband, several times, always receiving a message machine. He never calls back. Near the conclusion, she explodes on his recording, "You were a big mistake! I wish you were dead!" Shortly afterwards, a sort of RCA dog in her room attempts to comfort her, but all she can do is shake it and scream, "Don't growl at me!" She has lost her control, once more.
We have to show individuals, yes, you may flounder and fail, but your sentence is not forever, you can and will be able to improve portions of your life, a bit at a time, and yes, you may need other people and services to provide that adequate support that you may require, passing through the darkest periods. But these can be found. We are not all like Krisha, failing over and over again; and may the gods help us, there is more compassion in the world out there than is displayed, in general, by her quite dysfunctional and unaware family. I know there is. I have seen dark regions myself.
The audience was rather chatty when they first settled in to this theater. Upon exiting, though, they appeared grim, and disturbed, that such a "No Exit" and "Dead End" was all the director could present to us. Yes, we need to learn about severe disorders and conditions — to understand the sufferers' experiences, and those of their families. But there needs to be a note of redemption, of a path that can be trod, so that the Ancient Nordic Warrior within us all, may yet fight and win his or her battle, and go on to many more. The pitiless angst and alienation that has issued from the Second World War which lives on through our mental and physical debilitating conditions, must make way for what the '60s have been promising us since they occurred: If not the actual "Age of Aquarius," than certainly the definite knowledge that spiritual help is available for all who seek it; and that Brothers and Sisters must now embrace one another during all of their most serious trials on this difficult journey of life.
Without those realities coming into manifestation, we will be quite like Sartre's characters in "No Exit" — "Hell is one another." Yes, we must take on all manner of self-discipline. But that is not enough. We need more from humanity than this. It is all there to locate. The film presented Krisha Fairchild's powerful performance, and the indictment of useless pleasures which stem from money, but no inner content.
It is up to us all — to see that no one suffers alone, or without meaningful help. I am tired of filmmakers showing us that all we do is fail, fail, and fail even worse. I want to see that language change. I want to see Hope and Joy put back into the language of serious Movie-Making! Not the type of short-lived high spirits that are found in today's virtual realities, either. The challenges are severe — we must rise to all we can bring up from our inner depths, in order to confront the demons who would wish an easy victory over those who do not resist, who do not attempt to evolve their spirits as we were all of us meant to accomplish.