A Brother Runs Through It: twilit reflections on directorial brothers in the healing allegorical films of Robert Redford by Gary W. Wright
After years of acting in New Hollywood films and often playing characters linked to George Lucas such as the Sundance Kid and Johnny Hooker in Roy George Hill’s allegorical films, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969) and THE STING (1973), or Joe Turner in Sidney Pollack’s allegorical film, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975), Robert Redford joined Marlon Brando and Clint Eastwood in the ranks of film actors turned directors with his freshman allegorical film, ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980). After the fateful helicopter crash that killed actor/director/writer Vic Morrow and child extras Renee Chen and Myca Le around 2:20 am in the early morning of July 23, 1982, in the Santa Clara River of Indian Dunes Park on the John Landis set of the allegorical Landis, Joe Dante, George Miller and Steven Spielberg film, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983), Redford also joined the allegorical cinematic Zone Wars that broke out between the directors of the era. Unlike the other directors of the dread Zone Wars, however, Redford preferred to concentrate less on the disaster and more on the battling directorial brothers in his films. A sympathetic interest in directorial sibling rivalry that was already apparent in his first allegorical film, ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980), inspired by Ordinary People (1976) by Judith Guest.
‘This is the real world!’
Significantly, the leisurely montage of shots that established the film’s location in the suburbs of Chicago evoked the leisurely opening montage of shots that established the Faber College location of the allegorical Landis film, ANIMAL HOUSE (1978), two year before the release of ORDINARY PEOPLE. The wealthy high school in Lake Forest, a suburb of Chicago, that the montage ended at reiterated this link to ANIMAL HOUSE, as the high school and its students-including Timothy Hutton’s Conrad Jarrett-evoked Faber College.This similarity implied from the outset that ORDINARY PEOPLE was a reply to ANIMAL HOUSE. An implication that was increased by the fact that Landis was born in Chicago and set his allegorical film, THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980), in Chicago. The appearance of Donald Sutherland as Conrad’s father, Calvin Jarrett, reiterated the link of ORDINARY PEOPLE to Landis, as Sutherland had a small role as a clumsy waiter in the ‘That’s Armageddon’ segment of the allegorical Landis film, KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (1977), and as an English professor named Dave Jennings in ANIMAL HOUSE. To remind us of this latter role, ORDINARY PEOPLE even had a scene set in an English class at Lake Forest High School that was similar to the English class scene in ANIMAL HOUSE. The first name of Jarrett also underlined the link, as Calvin could be turned into the Landis sounding ‘Lanvic’. His son reiterated the link, as Conrad looked like Tim Matheson’s Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton in ANIMAL HOUSE.
The rivalry between Conrad and his older, more talented, successful and handsome brother, Buck-played by Scott Doebler-also reiterated the link of ORDINARY PEOPLE to ANIMAL HOUSE, as this rivalry recalled the rivalry between Delta House fraternity members like Otter and the better looking, more successful, talented, and wealthy members of Alpha Omega House, like James Daughton’s Greg Marmalard. However, the greater seriousness of ORDINARY PEOPLE, which revolved around Conrad’s struggle to deal with the trauma caused by Buck’s drowning death in a storm tossed boating accident, made it clear that Redford was not amused by ANIMAL HOUSE and was determined to bring sobriety, maturity, and harmony back to the Temple Theatre with ORDINARY PEOPLE. And perhaps eager to caution Landis about the rivalry between Alpha and Delta Houses, a rivalry that could be seen to symbolize the rivalry between top directors like Lucas and struggling directors like Landis. For Buck not only had a name that evoked the Buck Rogers style of the allegorical Lucas film, STAR WAR EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE (1997), he also looked like Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in that film. This implied that on one level ORDINARY PEOPLE was a cautionary allegorical tale about the potentially fatal consequences of directorial sibling rivalry, a cautionary tale that was eerily prescient in hindsight given the fatal consequences of the TZ disaster and the diretorial rivalry that was partly behind the disaster. Clearly, Redford’s cautioning sentiments were shared by many observers, given that ORDINARY PEOPLE won four Oscars the following year, including Best Picture and Best Director. An auspicious directorial debut, indeed, and one that no doubt inspired Redford to helm his first twilit post-TZ disaster allegorical film, THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR (1988).
‘Joe Mondragon is growing beans in his dead father’s field’.
Significantly, the slow dissolving montage of shots that established the setting at the beginning of the film evoked Landis again, as at the beginning of ORDINARY PEOPLE, making it clear that THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR was again concerned with Landis. In fact, with shots of the moon in cloudy nighttime skies overlooking the small New Mexico Latino town of Milagro, the opening montage openly evoked such allegorical Landis films as AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) and THREE AMIGOS (1986), affirming that Redford was addressing Landis again in THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR. Indeed, Chick Vennera’s struggling farmer Joe Mondragon was linked to Landis throughout the film, making his ultimately successful fight to grow beans in his dead father’s field despite fierce and furious opposition from the wealthy, Omega House evoking interests led by Richard Bradford’s Ladd Devine jr. and M. Emmet Walsh’s Governor-actors and characters who were linked to 1982 forever by their roles as Andrew Babcock in Costa-Gavras’ allegorical film, MISSING (1982), and as Captain Bryant in Sir Ridley Scott’s allegorical film, BLADE RUNNER (1982), respectively-symbolise the battle of Landis to free himself from the tragic and twilit events of 1982 in order to get back to a less stressful life and to continue making films. An interest in Landis that continued in Redford’s next allegorical film, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT (1992), inspired by Norman Maclean’s novella, A River Runs Through It (1976).
‘…Grace comes by art. And art does not come easy’.
For the focus of the film was on two river and fly fishing loving brothers, Norman and Paul Maclean-played by Craig Sheffer and Brad Pitt, respectively-who grew up in the beautiful and inspiring surroundings of Missoula, Montana in the early decades of the Twentieth century. The brothers were linked to Cronenberg and Landis, and their passion and talent for fly fishing was linked to a passion and talent for film directing throughout the film, in the rivers that ran through the film like the Santa Clara River location of the TZ disaster. Indeed, Norman looked, talked and acted like Cronenberg, while the presence of Tom Skerrit as family patriarch Reverend Maclean openly linked the film to Cronenberg via Skerrit’s role as Sherrif Bannerman in Cronenberg’s first twilit and allegorical Zone War salvo, THE DEAD ZONE (1983). For his part, Paul was not only wild and reckless like Landis, the resemblance of Paul’s native girlfriend, Mabel-played by Nicole Burdette-to Deborah, the wife of Landis, confirmed Paul’s link to Landis. Thus, as the film ended with the more brash and reckless Paul being murdered by gamblers linked to more successful directors like Cameron and Lucas, and Norm going off to marriage and adult success as an English professor at the University of Chicago-a vocation that reminded us that Cronenberg had an English degree, reiterating Norman’s link to Cronenberg-Redford implied in this allegorical film released in the tenth anniversary of the TZ disaster his fear that it was now time to leave Landis and the TZ disaster behind and head into a daylit new film era in the Nineties. Not too far behind, however, as an interest in Landis continued in his next allegorical film, QUIZ SHOW (1994), inspired by Remembering America: a voice from the Sixties (1988) by Richard Goodwin.
‘It was the getting away with it part that he couldn’t live with’.
Significantly, Paul Scofield’s family patriarch and Cambridge literature professor Mark Van Doren also looked, talked and acted like Cronenberg-albeit, an older Cronenberg-and Norman Maclean throughout the film, linking the film to A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. Thus, it was no surprise to see a character linked to Landis show up as well in QUIZ SHOW. However, the initial involvement of his equally talented and Frank Marshall linked son, Charles-played by Ralph Fiennes-in a rigged Fifties NBC television game show called Twenty One with the Landis linked contestant Herb Stempel-played by John Turturro-rigged by the Spielberg linked producer Dan Enright-played by David Paymer-implied that Redford increasingly believed that the TZ disaster was deliberately planned to happen and had been covered up by Spielberg and Marshall, executive producer of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. Thus, Stempel and Van Doren’s decisions to testify honestly at a Senate sub-committee hearing into the rigged television show in order to bring Enright to justice in the end implied that Redford hoped that Landis and Marshall would also confess to any wrongdoing in the TZ disaster and bring Spielberg to justice, for he had come up with the idea of making the movie with Warner Brothers in the first place and had hired Landis and Marshall to work on it with him as a co-director and executive producer, respectively, making him ultimately responsible for the disaster. The appearances of directors Barry Levinson and Martin Scorsese-who had both worked on twilit and allegorical films produced by Spielberg such as YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES (1985) and CAPE FEAR (1991)-in small roles, and the fact that Fiennes was also linked to Spielberg by way of his role as Nazi slave labor camp commandant Amon Goeth in Spielberg’s allegorical film, SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993), underlined Redford’s intent. An interest in the directors and producers most responsible for the TZ disaster that returned in Redford’s next allegorical film, THE HORSE WHISPERER (1998), inspired by The Horse Whisperer (1995) by Nicholas Evans.
‘The truth is I help horses with people problems’.
Indeed, in no other post-TZ disaster film did Redford underline that he was more interested in the directors and producers responsible for and coping with the disaster than in the disaster itself than in THE HORSE WHISPERER. Redford also made clear in THE HORSE WHISPERER that he wanted to heal these directors and producing partners so as to allow them to release the disaster and move on. Redford confirmed this intention by having the Lucas linked Tom Booker-played by Redford-heal and free Dianne Wiest’s Diane Booker-linked to TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE associate producer Kathleen Kennedy-Chris Cooper’s Marshall linked Frank Cooper and Sam Neill’s Robert MacLean-the actor linked to Spielberg by way of his character Dr. Alan Grant in the allegorical Spielberg film, JURASSIC PARK (1993), and his new character Robert MacLean to the director linked Maclean brothers of A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT by his surname, confirming the symbolic director status of Robert MacLean-of the trauma caused at the beginning of the film by the TZ disaster-like accident involving a big rig that resulted in the amputation of the right leg of Scarlett Johansson’s art of film linked Grace MacLean and injuries to her horse Pilgrim. Booker’s success in healing and freeing all of the main characters made it clear that Redford was hoping to heal Kennedy, Marshall and Spielberg in reality and kick off a new era of film. Booker’s link to Lucas also made it clear that Redford had not forgotten his own link to Lucas in films like BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, a sympathetic interest in Lucas that returned in his next allegorical film, THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE (2000), inspired by The Legend of Bagger Vance (1995) by Steven Pressfield.
‘Junuh was playing a fierce fourth round…’
Indeed, the film featured a once famous young golfer named Rannulph Junuh-played by Matt Damon-who disappeared after the Zone Wars evoking Great War, before finally returning years later to his hometown of Savannah, Georgia, to take on and defeat two talented golfers named Water Hagen and Bobby Jones-most likely linked to Francis Coppola and Cameron, and played by Bruce McGill and Joel Gretsch, respectively-to win a legendary golf game with the help of angelic caddy Bagger Vance-played by Will Smith. The fact that THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE was released a year after George Lucas jr. returned to the town of Hollywood and the Temple Theatres after a long absence following the outbreak of the dread Zone Wars in 1982 to take on his fellow directors with his allegorical film, STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999), implied that Redford, unlike most directors and audience members at the time, approved of the latest STAR WARS film and felt that the film had flowed with enough Force to beat competitors like Coppola and Cameron. A sympathetic interest in Lucas that returned again in his next allegorical film, LIONS FOR LAMBS (2007).
‘…it is the Vietnam era thinking; you know, they just repackaged’.
For a Lucas linked American soldier named Lt. Col. Falco-his surname recalling the Millenium Falcon in an open link to Lucas, and played by Peter Berg-quickly appeared in LIONS FOR LAMBS. Commanding a nighttime military operation authorized by Tom Cruise’s Spielberg linked Republican Senator Jasper Irving to attack insurgents sneaking into Afghanistan from Iraq through Iran to fight US led coalition forces in their Landis evoking wolf packs in the mountains of northern Afghanistan. A nighttime operation that led to two US soldiers, Arian Finch and Ernest Rodriguez-played by Derek Luke and Michael Pena, respectively-falling from their TZ disaster evoking CGI helicopter and down onto a difficult to reach plateau in the Hindu Kush mountains, and Lt. Col. Falco leading the attempt to rescue them. Alas, Falco and his fellow US soldiers failed in the attempt to free the two soldiers from their position in the mountain top zone, just like Lucas had failed two years earlier to free Chen and Le-and film, audiences and his fellow directors-from the Zone Wars-a Zone War ultimately set off by Speilberg’s decision to make TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE with Warner Brothers, symbolized by the decision of the Spielberg linked Senator Irving to launch the anti-insurgent operation in Afghanistan-with the last allegorical installment of his Millenial Trilogy, STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005). An embittering failure that returned in his next allegorical film, THE CONSPIRATOR (2011).
‘It’s not justice you’re after, but revenge’.
Significantly, this embittered fury was directed at Spielberg again in THE CONSPIRATOR, as in LIONS FOR LAMBS and QUIZ SHOW. For Redford furiously likened the success that Kevin Kline’s Spielberg linked Secretary of State Edwin Stanton and his accomplices had in using Stanton’s political power to have Robin Wright’s Mrs. Mary Serratt executed for harbouring conspirators who plotted to assassinate Gerald Bestrom’s President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 to the success Spielberg and his supporters had in using their post-TZ disaster films to blast Landis and his film art and blame all of the TZ disaster on him. Intriguingly, and despite his sympathetic support for Lucas in THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE and LIONS FOR LAMBS, Redford also blasted Lucas in the film. He did this by linking Lucas to Danny Huston’s Joseph Holt, the Stanton supporting prosecuting lawyer in the trial of Serratt and her co-conspirators that was not only a highlight of the film, but also evoked the slave trial in Spielberg’s allegorical film, AMISTAD (1997), a link to AMISTAD that confirmed the anti-Spielberg intent of Redford in THE CONSPIRATOR. This unusually sour outlook on Lucas from the Skywalk Kid was probably caused by the fact that two years earlier Lucas picked Spielberg again to direct the last allegorical installment in his Indiana Jones series, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008), which was an unusual development, given that Lucas had blasted Spielberg for all of his insidious and twilit cinematic machinations with righteous fury by linking Spielberg to Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen’s fallen Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker throughout the Millenial Trilogy. Significantly, the successful defense and release of Serratt’s Landis linked son, John Serratt-played by Johnny Simmons-at the end of the film in a separate trial after the end of the Civil War implied that Redford still wanted to release Landis from any and all presumptions of guilt for the TZ disaster and move on as he had implied in THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR, QUIZ SHOW and THE HORSE WHISPERER, an interest in absolving and releasing Landis that returned in Redford’s next allegorical film, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP (2012), based on The Company You Keep (2003) by Neil Gordon .
‘We should never have carried out that plan…we should have known that we were wrong’.
Indeed, the film concluding release from custody of the Landis linked ex-radical Sixties fugitive Nicholas Sloan, aka James ‘Jim’ Grant-played by Redford-by the confession of Julie Christie’s Kennedy linked fellow Sixties fugitive Mimi Lurie that Sloan was not the one who shot and killed a bank guard in a robbery in the Sixties made it clear that Redford believed that Landis was not guilty, and should be freed from potential charges and suspicion. Redford also implied that all blame for the disaster should be confessed to by Kennedy, given that she had been the associate producer of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE and had the power to stop Landis from illegally using Chen and Le on the set the fateful early morning of the disaster and had not done so, paving the way for the disaster. Allowing film to finally leave the Zone, and Redford to return to films that explored the healing and redemptive powers of art and nature and ensure that a brother runs through it.