“…the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time.”—William Faulkner
This past weekend in NYC was the premiere of James Franco’s As I Lay Dying: his second novel adaptation released this year, shortly after Child of God that first played at the Cannes Film Festival in May. And I’m liking the feel of James’ latest role as director so far; the way he’s bringing back these old-timey American novels meticulously really takes you back to simpler (and darker!) times (like, crossing the entire Mississippi countryside just to bury your mother, kind of times).
For those not familiar with As I Lay Dying’s original story (that by the way, Faulkner wrote in only six weeks), every chapter is told from a different character’s stream of consciousness during the last days of a poor Southern family’s mother Addie Bundren’s (Beth Grant) life, and the forthcoming journey Bundrens must take to fulfill their mother’s insistent request that she be buried in her hometown.
Set in Faulkner’s well-known mythical Yoknapatawpha County, the Bundrens are preparing as Addie dwindles down to her very last breath. Her son, Cash (Jim Parrack), carefully crafts a wooden coffin in the backyard, while the rest of the family mourns. Addie’s husband Anse (Tim Blake Nelson) is determined to fulfill his wife’s requests respectfully, gathering the family to help haul her coffin across the Mississippi countryside.
Along with Cash and Anse there’s Darl (Franco), the quiet and sensitive “see all, know all” character, the rebellious and ferocious Jewel (Loagan Marshall-Green)—whose demeanor might have to do with him being the result of Addie’s affair with a preacher—Addie’s only daughter: a secretly pregnant Dewey Dell (Ahna O’Reilly) who has an agenda of her own, and young Vardaman (Brady Permenter). When the time comes to finally board the mule-drawn cart, the real story starts to enfold as Bundren memories are recollected along the way, despite each one’s distant relationships from one another.
The ride is anything but quiet trekking along the rural dirt roads and flooding rivers over the course of several days, not to mention the excruciating smell wafting from the coffin as time passes. In fact, it gets pretty brutal and even hard to watch at times, especially after Cash’s leg gets hurt so bad they try to cement it back together. And after a series of failed attempts at seeking her special “medicine”, Dewey finally ends up retrieving what she needs from a mysterious and mustached Skeet MacGowan (Scott Haze)—under one very unreciprocated condition, of course: that she sleep with him in return of the favor.
Considering the novel’s famous complexities, Franco’s daring attempt at adapting As I Lay Dying to the big screen was an overall success. With a combination of split-screen techniques that really captures each family member’s isolation and never really trailing away from the literary, Faulkner’s story remains perfectly aligned with Franco’s directorial style.
Currently the film is showing at the AMC Empire 25 in New York, with more cities coming soon and an eventual iTunes release on October 22nd. I reckon you gone pour yourself a glass a whisky and go watch As I Lay Dying, ’cause James Franco done real good.