Thursday, 7 February 2013

2012 in Review: Forgotten Characters

…preparing for my somewhat overdue Year-End laurels in a bit by examining 2012 characters who made an impression despite roles which gave them little to do, or used them sparsely…

The very worst type of “forgotten” character is the kind which feels truncated, which a pops in and out of the narrative and doesn’t seem to even have that slight moment to display their purpose. The situation is probably exacerbated when that forgotten character is played an actor you expect to be given more. The next entry is a fine example.

Laura Dern inThe Master
as Helen Sullivan

I’m colder on The Master than most, but I’m generally pleased with the work of the ensemble. Still, The Master is so emphatically invested in the duo at the fore (and to a lesser extend the third wheel in the form of Adams) that it does not quite exist as an ensemble focused endeavour. We meet Dern’s Helen half way into the film when the tale takes us to her house. Helen is one of the most ardent followers of The Cause and Anderson sets up a nice scene for her to be the mouth-piece for the movement that toes the line between fanatic and believer without being condescending. My favourite thing about Dern here is that her Helen seems only baby steps removed from her astounding work as Amy Jellicoe in Enlightened so that this performance seems like a previous incarnation of that potentially unstable woman. Imagining Amy becoming gung-ho for a dubious religious movement seems easy. Helen is never expressly suggested as unhinged, but the general unsettling nature of the movement hints that any true believer must be.
And, yet, centre-piece of the scene – in theory – and all, Dern isn’t the true subject of the scene as we leave her ramblings to attend to a handsy game of sexual titillation between Freddie and Dodd’s daughter. It's not so much that Dern demands a bigger role (although, yes) but I ponder - why cast her for a role which is so clearly meant to be a plot-propellant. She is good enough so that her incidental ramblings about the goodness of the Cause take on more effect than they would in a more random actor, but...

It’s her final scene where, (slight as it may be,) Dern’s typical predilection to layer her characters shines through. Helen’s almost sycophantic conversation with Dodd questioning WHY the change in ideology from book one to two is key more for elucidating bits of Dodd’s character than anything else – his short temper, reinforcing the notion of him making it up as he goes along, etc. But, it’s nice how Anderson is telegraphing that Helene just may be the staunchest follower which is the problem. No one else seems to mind minor changes, but Helen’s enthusiasm can be grating when it digs so deep. It’s why, after his brief blow-up, I adore the way that Dern – ever so slightly – glares at Dodd from the corners of her eyes. It’s the only prolonged shot of her not smiling in the film and suggests depth that the film does not explore. Not that exploring a character unrelated to the main arc would make The Master a stronger film. But, I like Laura Dern put to good use.

Previously Forgotten in 2012: Ann Mitchell in The Deep Blue Sea

Were you waiting for Helen to do more The Master or were you riveted enough by its main plot?


Nick Prigge said...

I'm almost certain I said this last year but that's only because, well, every time you do these forgotten character posts you cover a character that I have LITERALLY forgotten.

My apologies to you and Ms. Dern.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

nick well i've done my job by shining a light on her. thinking on laura now i get your thing about elisabeth shue in hope springs. :'(