Movie Reviews with Spiritual Concepts Volume 1
September 13, 2014: THE SKELETON TWINS
Franciscan priest and popular spiritual guide Richard Rohr often uses a phrase “Unless we transcend our pain, we will continue to transmit it.” To “transcend our pain” is to allow God’s unconditional love to compensate for the conditional love we experience from ourselves and others. If we don’t, the “transmission of pain” can be apportioned to others and to ourselves equally. The masochistic dimensions of this truth are displayed in all of their grandeur in SKELETON TWINS, the story of adult fraternal twins Milo and Maggie perpetuating childhood fears and unhealthy choices instilled in them through seriously warped parenting and other forms of abuse. Existential pain runs amuck in this film which begins with each twin’s respective suicide attempt and continues with the shadow of despair evident in the characters’ behaviors and in the dark gray lighting in much of the film. Yet, this sad story offers sustained appeal and intrigue through the excellent artistry and chemistry shared by the two leads Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as Milo and Maggie whose acting skills are comparable to their comedic talents evident in their years goofing it up on Saturday Night Live. Furthermore, the script itself provides periodic and most welcomed comic relief without which we would sink into something akin to Ingmar Bergman induced despair.
There is truth in the concept that as adults we continue to work out our childhood traumas, doomed to recreate the patterns of the past until we address them head-on. Indeed, childhood responses to life, love and their challenges continue in perpetuity until the day we decide to re-orient ourselves to the realities of the present and realize that before us is a panorama of alternate ways to interpret our life situations and the choices available to us. And although life’s situations will often continue to evoke those same old childhood feelings, we liberate ourselves with the knowledge that with the help of God and others, we can work through them. THE SKELETON TWINS explores how the deep bonds of sibling love (in this case fraternal twins) offers the possibility for psycho-spiritual health, but this brother and sister suspend pursuit of these possibilities long into their adulthood and throughout the course of the film.
The film’s director, Craig Johnson, evidences his artistry by cultivating sympathy for Milo and Maggie with moments of recognition that affirm the ways childhood hurts and longings echo through our adulthoods. As Milo and Maggie respectively search for pain relief, viewers can identify readily with this ongoing challenge. True to today’s sensibilities, the wounded characters seek sexual fulfillment but not without attempts for genuine connection with others on deeper levels. For her part, Maggie’s marriage is a study in opposing dynamics, the cohabitation of cynicism and hope, the latter incarnated at times to comical extremes by her husband, Lance, played convincingly by Luke Wilson. The contrast culminates in heartbreaking scenes up to and including the film’s climax. What makes love fulfilling or so sadly unfulfilling for this couple? Is it their respective pasts (although Lance’s is never explored) or their basic frailties? Or is it their lack of virtue or genuine inability to cultivate virtue in one another? Milo’s quest is even more pain-wracked. He longs to regain a lost love that from the onset was fraught with dishonesty and manipulation. While the script makes us fully aware of the pain that motivates his search it could have served us better by exploring the multi-facet dimensions of such an unhealthy bond.
THE SKELETON TWIN is an artful film, consistent in its plot, character development and imagery. The autumn setting coupled with the anticipation and experience of Halloween support the overriding affect of the twins’ macabre childhood and their respective adult dances-with-death. “Faith” is never one of the character’s conscious pursuits, nor is it ever named as one of their options, but the ark of the film still resonates with echoes of Saint Augustine’s oft-quoted statement ““Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee”
Are Milo and Maggie capable of naming their truths without continually fleeing in fear or wallowing in life’s absurdities? Will they find peace (if not a conscious contact with God) through one another? Although it does in part, the film won’t answer these questions for you fully or even, for many, in a satisfactory way. Still, if you enjoy watching and/or are intrigued by characters searching for meaning and meaningful relationship in a story more serious than comic, more dark than light, with excellent acting, this film is for you.
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