Death has always been a major theme in film. There have been countless movies that present death as tragic or even comedic. The Savages and Rachel Getting Married are no exceptions. Both movies address this theme in their own distinct ways.
The Savages is about two siblings, Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Wendy (Laura Linney), who are dealing with the slow deterioration of their father, Lenny (Philip Bosco). Jon and Wendy are both single and haunted by their childhood past. They decide to put their father in a nursing home and try to deal with their decision. This decision, however, proves to be too much for both characters. The Savages is equal parts comedy and tragedy as we watch how these characters try to reconcile their past with the future they hope to attain.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, who always brings a great performance to every movie he is in, plays the older sibling who is trying to not become his father. He holds on to the past as a reminder to not recreate it. The marvellous Laura Linney plays a playwright going through a midlife crisis and is stuck in a static relationship. Linney, who is known more for her dramatic roles, is rather funny in this movie and has many scenes where you will find yourself laughing out loud.
Rachel Getting Married also deals with death, but this time, it’s the death of a sibling that occurred many years ago and still haunts a family. Anne Hathaway delivers an amazing performance as Kym, a recovering drug addict who has just checked out of a rehabilitation center at the same time her older sister, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), is getting married. Kym returns to a family that can’t forget the past and seems to blame her for it, even though they try to act differently. Kym’s father, Paul (Bill Irwin), is trying to keep everyone happy and to bring Kym and Rachel together. He proceeds blindly to fix his daughters’ damaged relationship but instead brings forth the overwhelming past. Things get hectic as the growing tension between Kym and her family begins to build, resulting in a series of devastating events.
Anne Hathaway does such a terrific job as Kym that she should have won an Oscar for her performance. Kym goes through such an emotional roller coaster that the audience just wants to pull her aside and comfort her. Her father and sister are both grief-stricken and trying to move on with their lives but are held back by the always-looming past that is represented in Kym. There is so much going on throughout the movie that makes it difficult for the family to actually address their hostility towards one another. There always seems to be someone or something that interrupts their discussion of the disturbing past. With all of this, Rachel Getting Married is a lively film that has a wonderful ensemble of musicians who take part in the film, including Tunde Adebimpe from the indie rock band TV on the Radio, who plays the groom. The wedding ceremony is such a beautiful and unique scene that it is a reprieve from all the problems occurring in the film.
Both The Savages and Rachel Getting Married examine the themes of death and a horrible past. The past has a hold on the main characters in both films, and its hold prevents them from moving on. Their lives become frozen in a perpetual need to revisit the past, which contributes to a disconnect from reality. Both Wendy and Paul try to push the past from their minds but are overwhelmed when it comes rearing back into the present. They both lack the ability to confront terrible events and instead try to create their own perceptions of how things should be. In both movies, death is a weight that continues to build throughout each movie until the main characters are forced to deal with it.
The Savages and Rachel Getting Married are both filled with sorrow and despair but are so terrific in their representations of dealing with death that they both deserve a chance to be watched. They both provide an upfront insight into the loss of a loved one and the grief that never really goes away.