Feb 10, 2011

Natural Enemies

Getting a fair amount of praise from a friend, I made excellent time in tracking down a copy of Natural Enemies for my visual consumption. Starring Hal Holbrook and directed by Jeff Kanew of Revenge of the Nerds fame, Natural Enemies takes its fleeting philosophy on the poisonous effects of marriage and applies the title quite aptly to suit the needs of the cynical Paul Stewart. A man of science and intellectualism, Paul Stewart decides to soon take the life of his three children, his wife, as well as his own, in an effort to keep the family intact while ending their domestic misery. Fear not, I haven't divulged any more information than what Kanew would have himself given. After all, Natural Enemies, more in fact, captures the presumably last day of a man whose belief in love and family has faltered to the point to allow cynicism total control. It's an act of criminal negligence that Natural Enemies isn't released on a later video format other than mildewing big box VHS tapes.

Paul Stewart is a character I find myself sympathizing with the longer the film goes on. Throughout his dreary and routine day, he encounters strange examples of human life, people as detached as he is and wish for some flicker of hope entailing what was once known as life. Stewart purchased a secluded cabin in the countryside as he had hoped the wooden beams supporting the wooden domain would collect and capture a tenderness between his family. Arguably, you could say that Paul Stewart has what is commonly referred to as the "American dream" and Natural Enemies just makes a point to show how miserable the good magazine editor is because of it. Taking a two hour train ride to work nearly every day has exhausted the already delirious housewife, Miriam (Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest) to the point of total reclusion from her husband. This wasn't the reason for their emotional separation anymore than Miriam's previous overdosing on Ritalin was. Natural Enemies makes a clear point in sympathizing and humanizing the needs of both man and wife, until death do they part. As Paul continues about his day at the office of his scientific publication, he absently stares at his beautiful assistant Anne and questions why he's never taken her to bed. Paul and Miriam's marriage is continuously trivialized throughout Natural Enemies, neither character can give a reason for shunning the idea of divorce other than softly quipping "maybe we're old-fashioned."

The children featured in Natural Enemies aren't so much children as they are dining room parasites. Shown only in brief scenes, the children, Tony, Sheila, and Alex, make up much of Paul's festering hatred as they are shown humorously as detached as the parents are, taking time from the day to absorb cartoons, eat frozen waffles, and gorge upon junk food. Miriam is no different from the lot. She is a marginalized woman who was terrified of maturity which led to her overdosing on Ritalin, a scene I am very privy to as my own uncle overdosed off of my very same medication at a tender age. It's no coincidence that Miriam attempted suicide and was of a tortured artist archetype. It appears that most films glorify this very same ideal as the connection of women, acoustic guitars, watercolors, and prescription medication seem as in tune with media as the sexualized usage of cocaine by divas and celebrities in modern culture. The frequent bashing of marital norms and Paul Stewart's gloomy narration adds thick a layer of matrimonial destitution that never fails to keep the pacing intricate and flawless. Through Paul's malaise a door is opened into a subjective view on the phenomena of familial murder/suicides, one that doesn't blister a previously opened wound but, rather, shows the sick charm of confusion held by these men and women. I can recall the ending of Natural Enemies as an illustration of hopelessness and the insatiable spirit of depression but I can also state that the finale was quite akin to a punch in the gut. Bleak in every sense of the word and venomous to the touch, Natural Enemies makes no attempt to vilify any character, any means of release, or any reason of escape - Pure brilliance in storytelling and a film to be reckoned with.


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