Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Getting Carried Away

"Looking back you never regret the ones you did, only the ones you didn't."

Dr. Evans (Hal Holbrook)

I always liked Dennis Hopper. I can't think of a performance he gave that I didn't enjoy, and I was very sad to learn of his death nearly six years ago.

If a typical story has its hero and its antihero, I suppose you would have to classify most, if not all, of Hopper's roles as antihero — not necessarily in the sense that he was a villainous character (although he did play some villainous types at times) but usually in the sense that he definitely was not an heroic figure. Whether he played a villain or not, he was usually weak, flawed, imperfect. He was always very human, neither truly evil nor truly good, neither black nor white but 50 shades of grey — like most humans. In that sense, he was truly an Everyman.

Having said that, I feel compelled to observe that Hopper's work in "Carried Away," which premiered 20 years ago today, was a more introspective and thoughtful performance than moviegoers saw him give in most of his movies. In many ways, I felt I really knew his character — Joseph, a middle–aged farmer/teacher who had a lame leg because of an accident in his youth and, perhaps as a result, never strayed far from where he was brought up. At the age of 47 he lived with his cancer–stricken mother in the farmhouse in which he was raised. He taught in the local school and tended the farm when he wasn't teaching.

It was a predictable existence — including the routine outward appearance of Joseph's ongoing courtship of a widow and colleague (played by Amy Irving).

That is the thing about Everymen, I guess. After a certain point in their lives, they don't tend to take risks — if they ever did. They stick with what is safe and familiar.

And that is how it was with Joseph and Rosealee.

Another thing about Everymen. At some point, they seem to realize their limitations — or, at the very least, they recognize that they have limitations.

And they live within those limitations, whatever they happen to be. They are realists. Joseph certainly was a realist. A brutally honest one. "I'm a mediocre teacher," he said at one point, "and an even worse farmer."

Joseph was a man who lived a safe life — until he found himself being forced out of his teaching job because he didn't have the academic credentials that were required by the school district. He was told his services would no longer be needed after the current school year ended. Not long after, a beautiful young girl (Amy Locane) came into his life through his classroom. She was the daughter of a retired Army major (Gary Busey) who wanted to board his daughter's horse on Joseph's property. She came over regularly to ride her horse — and seduced Joseph, who found himself caught in the classic conundrum — torn between pleasure and guilt.

It was a challenge at times for Joseph to keep his relationship with the girl secret, but he managed — until the local doctor (Hal Holbrook) happened upon the two of them in Joseph's barn.

He advised Joseph not to continue the relationship, pointing out the 30–year difference in their ages.

And Joseph's mother (Julie Harris) knew what had been going on. "I don't know who you think you've been fooling," she said to him.

Well, he had been fooling Rosealee, for one. She found out about Joseph's relationship with the girl when, after Joseph's mother died, Rosealee took it upon herself to answer the sympathy cards — and one was a suggestive card from the girl. Rosealee confronted Joseph and stormed out on him.

And, at the end of the movie, Joseph and the major had a discussion about the girl. Or, at least, the start of one. He conceded that what had happened was probably more his daughter's idea than Joseph's, which it had been.

(I have often wondered if Busey's character inspired Chris Cooper's character in "American Beauty" a few years later. Both were military men who had teenage children who had become involved with — or appeared to have become involved with — an older neighbor going through a midlife crisis. Busey's character was much more restrained, but "American Beauty" was a different kind of movie in many ways. Busey's character wouldn't have worked in "American Beauty," and Cooper's character wouldn't have worked in "Carried Away."

(Cooper's character, of course, killed Kevin Spacey's character in the mistaken belief that he was involved in a homosexual relationship with Cooper's character's son. Busey's character's daughter actually was in a relationship with Hopper's character — and Busey and Hopper went hunting together, but Busey never threatened Hopper.)

The movie struck me as being a slice of life. Life's events rarely have neat endings in which everyone sees the lessons that were intended to be learned, and "Carried Away" was like that. At the end, Joseph and Rosealee seemed to have reconciled, but the audience was not sure what would become of them — or even what the moral of the story was.

Perhaps it was, as Joseph acknowledged, the power — and the lure — of being carried away. Nothing more and nothing less.