Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Prodigal Sons" (2008, Kimberly Reed)


A stunning journey of self-discovery, Kimberly Reed’s documentary film Prodigal Sons (2008) is literally heartbreaking to watch. It follows the plight of a Montana family trying to deal with more issues than you would accept as plausible, had it been a work of fiction. Forget Capturing the Friedmans (2003). The McKerrows make them seem like a crowd from a 1950s aluminum sidings commercial.

Marc, brother #1 was adopted. He had a bad head injury at 21 and a part of his brain was removed. He’s now prone to attacks of rage, as well as to sudden urges to sit at the piano and play it away; beautifully (he never learned to read notes).

Todd, brother #2, is gay and pretty much out of the picture, except for a Christmas reunion.

And brother #3 is Kimberly Reed herself. Transgendered, beautiful, amazingly strong and compassionate, she’s the center (as well as the author) of the movie. It all starts with her coming to Helena, Montana to take part in a school reunion (as long as she used to be Paul, she made a great quarterback).

Oh, and did I mention that Marc is a grandson of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth…? When the news first hit the screen (about 30 minutes into the movie), I found myself literally gaping in astonishment (it made clear why the Citizen Kane [1941] font was used in the opening credits, but still!). Marc discovers who his ancestors were, and embraces his newly found Welles identity. There’s a great moment, when Kim’s camera notices on Marc’s desk a DVD with the TV production of King Lear (1953), starring Welles – and Lear had only greed of his three children to face!

It’s fascinating to watch Marc, because he has Welles’ eyes. There he is, hugging Oja Kodar at a Croatian family reunion of sorts; Kim always with him. And when he leaves the mental hospital near the end, he gives a piano concert of such beauty, that we find ourselves shattered when he finishes and looks into the camera, with his Welles’ eyes set in his visibly damaged skull.

Right from the start, the film is so vibrant with different emotions (anxiety, pride, jealousy, compassion) that it’s literally difficult to pick out only one to share at any given moment.

The theme is identity. The movie's transgendered narrator speaks from a place that we all have in us, an indeterminate place where we store all our daily masks. She’s outside, and probably will never be fully in. Just like Marc, just like Welles. She’s a true artist – blessed by talent, cursed by biology, with only her self-awareness to guide her.

You’re right on, girl. It’s a great film.

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