Release date: October 9, 2013 Director: James Franco
Over the past few years, James Franco has gone on to prove to the world that he is man of many talents – to the point that many of his fans have begun to show signs of Franco burn-out. It is true that versatile individuals usually fall under the harshest forms of criticism. Love him or hate him, James Franco has proven himself to be quite the director with his fantastic debut, an ambitious film adaptation of William Faulkner’s classic novel, As I Lay Dying.
As I Lay Dying is a beautiful experience, one that has haunted me since my first viewing, and one that I won’t soon forget. Most of us read the book in high school. We are familiar with the Bundren’s and their perilous journey to carry the matriarch of the family to her final resting place. It’s a simple story with an undercurrent of complexity that catches you off guard, both mentally and emotionally. Outwardly, the characters all speak in a casual, unsophisticated manner. Yet, in those moments when we are allowed access to their innermost thoughts, the words flow effortlessly, exposing the fragile soul within each individual.
We follow the Bundren family – father Anse, Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell, and young Vardaman – as they wrestle with themselves and one another, each carrying a unique burden as heavy as the wooden casket on board the wagon.
James Franco both directs and plays Darl in the film, and he takes on both roles with great skill. For the majority of the film, Franco utilizes a split-screen technique which effectively presents the stream-of-consciousness flow of the material without seeming gratuitous. This approach also allows us to see the action from different perspectives, lending a depth to the film that would be missing otherwise. More than anything else, this aspect of the film has alienated most mainstream critics; however, courageous viewers will appreciate the risk.
The score from Tim O’Keefe is one of the most memorable elements in the film. It lingers throughout, hovering over the action like one of the many vultures which stalk the Bundren’s on their uncertain quest.
As I Lay Dying is a harrowing mediation on life, death, guilt, and regret which has lost none of its potency since 1930. Even though it ends on a darkly comic note, this is a dense, appropriately somber film which has been gracefully directed by first-time director, James Franco. The performances are remarkable, featuring the talents of Beth Grant, Tim Blake Nelson, Ahna O’Reilly, Logan Marshall-Green, Danny McBride, and Jim Parrack.
As I Lay Dying is one of the best films of 2013, and I hope that it finds an audience that will appreciate all of the riches that it has to offer.
Adam is a hardcore film fanatic. Some would call him a film snob. They’re probably right. He's been writing film reviews for as long as he can remember, and it is truly one of his passions. Aside from writing film reviews, he is also a screenwriter. He's written two shorts in the last year, one of which he plans to shoot in the spring of 2013. His favorite filmmakers are Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick, Ingmar Bergman, Michael Haneke, and David Lynch – simply too many to list here.