Family. That is a word designed to keep us loyal. A safety net for our species where blood and kin circle with one another as though our trust and love protect us from villainy and strife.
But it is also a word that keeps us locked in abuse, blindly following our parents no matter what. It keeps children stuck in the chains of their parents, lost as to how they could break free from the damaging relationships are shifting and evolving us for the worse.
With everything that messes us up in our lives, it is family, and parents, that are the factors impacting us the most.
In The Glass Castle, the idea of family loyalty is challenged by dysfunction.
Based on the memoirs of journalist Jeanette Walls, the movie follows a family led by impoverished and alcoholic father Rex. Rather than lead a conventional life, he bounces from house to house, squatting until they are forced to move again. The children are effectively left to fend for themselves; at a young age Jeanette is burnt badly whilst cooking food, they are mainly out of education, and Rex winds up passed out whilst their mother fixates on him or her art. Flitting between flashbacks and the present, Jeanette reminisces on her turbulent past when her parents came back into her life, and truly how they affected her.
Because comparisons are inevitable, The Glass Castle is the bleaker version of Captain Fantastic. The latter, however, is based in (imperfect) ideals that come from a genuinely good place. In The Glass Castle, however, Rex’s ideologies are affected by his alcoholism. Submerged within deep-seated trauma, Rex cannot seem to break a cycle of neglect and impoverishment that have a negative impact on the people around him, particularly his children. With Jeanette as the focus, director Destin Daniel Cretton, who gifted us with Short Term 12, we learn the imbalance it causes when you are older and how the scars run deeper into adulthood. Juxtaposing her childhood life with the one she’s tried to make for herself, Cretton works two sides of the story, connected by this harrowing life.
Brie Larson as the lead is admirable and superb. The Academy Award Winner rallies through different versions of Jeanette as she comes face to face with the life she was forced to live. As a young teenager or an accomplished woman, Larson layers Jeanette with this fierceness and pain – a determination to get away from her bullying and controlling father. Rex is played by Woody Harrelson and it’s about time we just gave him all the awards. Harrelson immerses himself into the role, excavating the echoes of suffering that ultimately reverberate on his own children. Filled with shame and pride, Rex is a towering man and Harrelson embodies the role entirely and perfectly.
The titular Glass Castle serves as a metaphor for a dream neither Rex or Jeanette will ever meet thanks to Rex’s shortcomings. The film never quite reaches complete potential in the same manner, and it seems as though Rex’s abuse is skirted over towards the end of the film. Yet running through the credits are the real family and in their reverence you can see a nuance to how we should approach our own trauma.
For anyone who has been through similar issues, it is an affecting and powerful film to watch.
The Glass Castle is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!