The movie that proves plays can be adapted into really good movies: Fences. It didn’t look like a play. It didn’t feel like a play. But its focus was on the essence of any play: acting and dialogue. There wasn’t fancy, eye-catching camera work or a flashy score. No special effects. Just sparkling, dazzling dialogue and mesmerizing performances from everyone in the cast. Two minutes into the film, I was hooked.
First, let’s discuss my favorite thing to discuss in these rambles: metaphors! Fences were pushed to their literary limit, and I mean that in the best way. There’s nothing like a tenfold metaphor that happens to double as the film’s title. First, there’s the obvious– the barrier between blacks and whites in that time. There was an insurmountable divide between the two in America in the 1950s, and the movie emphasizes that without ever overstepping the line into preaching or handholding. It’s in every scene: were there any white characters? I don’t remember, and I don’t think so. If I remember correctly, the only white person with dialogue came from the scene where Troy was about to go ask to be a driver, and the tension between them was palpable. It’s in every one of Troy’s electric dialogues. Then there’s the divide between Troy and every person in his life: a fence built around him, never letting anyone inside completely. He wouldn’t let his wife in as he grieved the death of his mistress. He never let his son his because of how damaged the relationship was between him and his own father. He let his friendship with Bono go completely. And there’s the fence Rose is determined to keep around her family because she wants so desperately to have that perfect family life, and there’s the fence Troy is fixated on keeping around his own fiercely guarded life….
Fences. I love it.
The screenwriting was phenomenal. When I think of this movie, I think of the dialogue. It made the entire story. It was refreshing to appreciate such a quick, sharp script without effects and elaborate costumes or stages or any other tricks to distract from it. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but I promise I’m being sincere. The focus on the dialogue was refreshingly wonderful.
Troy was a compelling character. In the beginning, he seemed like an average, kindly, jaded father. As the movie progressed, some of his scars were revealed along with his past, and by the end, so many layers were pulled away that we were left looking at a worn, cruel, damaged man. In one of the first scenes, his story about wrestling with Death was lighthearted and joyful. After his daughter is born, when he screams threats at Death, it’s unsettling and a little terrifying. His father died, his mother probably died, and his brother almost died, all of which are background bits of information. However, in that scene, the result of that pain is clear. He is a broken man, afraid to die and afraid to live.
In all the summaries of the movie and in the trailer, it’s mentioned that Troy is an ex-baseball player. To me, it didn’t feel like it mattered that much to the movie. It was developed somewhat in his relationship to his son, through his speech, and with his habit of hitting the ball outside, but it was not a focus. I liked that. They could have easily dwelled on that aspect of his character and missed the rest of his development. It’s a hint of who he was and nothing more, and I was pleasantly surprised by that decision.
Viola Davis was stunning. She was so good. So good. Woah. I felt it. Her big scene-when Troy reveals the consequences of his infidelity — was incredible. Of course, this starts with the writing. The dialogue of both characters was so heartbreaking and so honest. It’s not easy to evoke sympathy for a cheating husband, especially when his wife is so good and so loving, but they managed. At the same time, I could completely understand Rose’s anguish. Davis’s acting in this scene brought it to life. I could feel how much she put into their marriage and how hard she worked for them. I could feel her disappointments, magnified tenfold under the revelation. Her tears were so raw and real.
Gabe touched my heart. His character was so precious and brought out the best in the other characters (or, in some cases, the worst in Troy simultaneously). Bono and Troy’s oldest son were just really, really cool.
I hesitate to say it because of all the evidence to the contrary, but I think Troy was a tragic figure. And by tragic, I’m implying that he deserves our sympathy and empathy. On the one hand, the movie does not try to sugarcoat who he is or what he’s done. He is unnaturally cruel toward his son, and the scene where he fights his son and kicks him out is his last. The last moment his character has on-screen shows him holding his bat, pleased and triumphant, after beating up his son. However, I don’t think this was a reflection on Troy.When his son returns for his funeral, Rose tells him we all become our parents. He has the best of his father in him, like she’s trying to give the best of her to Troy’s daughter. And the very last scene of the movie, when the sun parts and it’s easy to imagine Troy smiling down on his family, is beautiful and touching. In spite of his faults and demons (the many, many faults and the many, many, many demons), I think Troy was doing the best he could with the life he was given. He grew up with an abusive father, a cold mother and ten siblings. He was kicked down every time he thought he’d have another chance just because he was black, and he didn’t want his sons to suffer the way he had. He was being the best man that he knew how to be.
Maybe his son will get it right with his chance. It seems like he might, and I think that’s the point.