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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Father and Son (When Did You Last See Your Father?)

The final journey home

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For the child named Blake, as for many boys, dad was invincible and immortal. But like many fathers and sons, problems began to mount along the way, especially as the boy passed through the thorny path of adolescence. When Did You Last See Your Father? concerns the inevitable decline of dad as witnessed by the now adult son. Diagnosed with inoperable cancer, dad is sent home to die, giving Blake time to ponder the many memories that rush from the hidden parts of his consciousness.

Based on the novel by British author Blake Morrison, the story unfolds in the unhurried, not especially cinematic manner of a movie striving for fidelity to its literary source. There are many flashbacks to childhood and adolescence, but nothing relating to Blake’s ascent as a prize-winning poet. Dad is still nagging Blake, still playing the unstoppable force of nature, on the day the odd pains send him to the hospital and, afterward, on the final journey home.

Dad, played by the marvelously expressive Jim Broadbent, was always a man who took great glee in scoffing at laws, bending the rules, driving just over the limit and parking in restricted zones. Through Blake’s boyhood, another woman hovered at the edge of his parents’ marriage. Irrepressibly and sometimes embarrassingly gregarious, dad never understood his introverted son, nose always in a book when he wasn’t making awkward advances on the Scottish servant girl, his first love. The ember sparks anew, at least in the grate of Blake’s heart, when he returns home to stand the deathwatch over dad.

Colin Firth is well cast as the adult Blake, perennially dour and unable to express his emotions without the aid of pen and paper. The problems between Blake and his dad, between mom and dad, and the unresolved emotions Blake still feels from his adolescent love even in the midst of his own relatively content marriage, are never resolved. As often happens in life, ambivalence and irresolution hold the field. Nothing is entirely settled except the end of life itself.

When Did You Last See Your Father? is scheduled to open July 4 at the Downer Theatre.