A THOUSAND ACRES

THREE STARS - Challenging

Behind the closed doors of respectable homes, many afflictions are hidden.  Most are unavoidable sorrows like death and disease which are privately suffered, but there are some maladies of a far less common but infinitely more destructive nature.  These are the betrayals of fathers who molest their daughters.

        In a powerfully perceptive manner, “A Thousand Acres” is a story of such a private pain.

        Set within the cornfields of Iowa, the story centers around the life of a respected family whose farm has been in existence for over a hundred years.

        Larry Cook (Jason Robards) is the grandson of the founder and the father of three daughters whose mother died when the oldest was fifteen and the youngest was five.

        The oldest daughter, Ginny (Jessica Lange) is the narrator of the tale.  She is now in her forties and married to a hardworking and unromantic farm hand who works for her father.  They live a quarter of a mile from the “home place,” but still on the “thousand acres.”

        The second daughter, Rose (Michelle Pfeiffer), is also married and lives right across the road from her father with her husband and two daughters.

        The third daughter, Caroline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a lawyer who lives in nearby Des Moines.

        Taken from a Pulitzer prize- winning novel by Jane Smiley, the drama is accurate in its portrayal of both the denial and conflictual damage of incest.

        The story unfolds with Larry deciding to give his thousand acres to his daughters as a gift while he is still alive.  The hidden story is that this is an act of manipulation and guilt.

        In a “Bible-belt” society in which the church is a central part of community life, the caustic hypocrisy of a father who publicly worships God and yet privately molests his daughters is devastating.

        The film clearly demonstrates the spiritual damage within the children of such a home:  their souls are confused and consumed.

        The consequences of Larry’s abuse and manipulation ripples throughout the family.  Physical, mental and spiritual trauma permeate everyone’s life.  In the end, death has taken Larry, Rose’s husband and eventually Rose herself to cancer without any reconciliation occurring.

        Specialists in the healing of sexual abuse victims note that the final damage occurs when the father turns the sin around and accuses the daughter of being the “whore” who instigated the abuse.

        This transferring of the sin from the father to the daughter and the condemnation pronounced by the father produces a spiritual disease that is almost incurable.

        In one powerful scene in which the two older daughters are in a hospital room, Rose looks back over her life and laments the fact that she has not been able to claim any achievements.  She had lost her husband, her lover, her health, and her joy, and was left only with her anger.  However, with pride in her voice she proclaims, “But I can say that I did not forgive the unforgivable.”

        Rose’s death leaves Ginny with a paradox:  “How do you forgive someone who shows no remorse?”

        This is the spiritual void.

        Forgiveness is not something which is for those who sin against us dependent on their remorse, forgiveness is for us who have been sinned against.

        To never forgive is to keep hold of that sin like a treasure.  The fingers of our soul not only tighten their grasp against any attempts at its removal, but they also cynically caress it.

        The result of such a spiritual choice is that the sin then begins to be woven into the very fabric of our identity and our victimhood becomes the core of our soul.

        Unlike Rose, Ginny’s response is nevertheless also accurate to the reality of their horrible experience.

        Ginny has lived in a state of denial.  The sin was so horrendous that she blocked its memory from her conscious thoughts.

        Called “traumatic forgetting,” her need to confess the truth of what had happened to her is encouraged by Rose and is the beginning of her freedom.  Ginny leaves the farm and its pain and moves away.

        At the end of this human tragedy, Ginny is left to raise Rose’s two daughters.  It is in caring for these two innocent young girls that Ginny witnesses hope, something that she and her sisters had lost.  It may be that this act of giving to others is the sole transforming power that will break the cycle of despair and pain.

Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 3 STARS, CHALLENGING.