THREE STARS – Thought-provoking
For a variety of reasons, fathers and sons often misunderstand each other. Perhaps it’s jealousy, or competition, but whatever the reasons, the father-son relationship is often a minefield of unexpected and unpredictable explosions. Playing with many of the usual themes of a coming-of-age movie, “The Run of the Country” is a powerful study of a father and son.
Having lost the mediating influence of the wife and mother, the father (Albert Finney) and his son Danny (Matt Keeslar) are forced to deal with one another directly. This fact fuels the events of the film and causes us to explore the dynamics of their relationship. When the mother dies of a heart attack when she attempts to come between her husband and their son in a fight, it becomes clear that mother’s mediation was part of the problem. Rather than forcing the two men to resolve their discomfort with each other, her presence seemed to intensify their separation. When she dies, father and son must find their way without her.
Like many fathers, he first attempts to push Danny into a submissive role. Needing a cook and housekeeper now that his wife has died, this rigid, police sergeant tells his son that he is to cook and clean. Danny’s failure in this role has less to do with his lack of culinary skill than his abhorrence of being placed in a submissive role within their home. But never having been shown how to face another man and reach a mutually respectful relationship, he instead rejects the submissive role by fleeing from the home.
His father does not know how to respond to his flight. Explaining that he himself fled from his own father’s dominance, his inability to provide guidance to his own son becomes a generational pattern. However when Danny flees, he falls into a surrogate father-son relationship with a slightly older male named Prunty (Anthony Brophy).
This predictable reaction is common to the father-son struggle. When the biological father is unable to provide an adequate father role, the son flees into the care of surrogate role models in the community. These surrogate fathers can be for good or for ill. They can be slightly older gang members or they can be teachers, church members and boy-scout leaders.
In Danny’s case he falls under the tutelage of a mischievous and unwise influence. Defining manhood by his ability to fight, drink and have casual sex, Prunty introduces Danny to the partying scene. Danny, reared by his mother’s authentic Catholicism, does not take to the impersonal sexuality and fickle friendship of the partying scene. His mother’s counsel that he should “believe in the Almighty and believe in yourself,” causes him to seek a more authentic life.
He falls in love with Annagh (Victoria Smurfit), a woman of dignity and depth, who had many of the features of his mother . But like many who misunderstand the wisdom of obeying God’s laws, Danny and Annagh do not wait for the commitments and permanence of marriage and soon find themselves to have conceived a child.
It is this moral issue that begins the powerful healing of the relationship between father and son. In the discussion that ensues over the “ruining of his life” and the “meaning of love,” they begin to talk for the first time about who they really are. The father explains life-long patterns of anger and sexually explosive behavior toward the mother. The son, in seeing that same behavior being repeated in himself, begins to soften his judgmental and arrogant attitude toward his father.
When Annagh’s family responds to Danny’s immorality by tarring and feathering him, it is his father who proclaims at Danny’s greatest moment of disgrace that “this is my son.” A father’s acceptance of his son, and the son’s responsive love of his father, is a difficult treasure to find. But when it is found, then the soul is truly nourished.