Monday, June 3, 2013


(October 2001, U.S.)

In October 2001, just one month after the events of September 11th, I was seeking feelings of peace and serenity within the walls of the Hamptons beach house I'd grown up in since childhood; a house that has meant everything to me for the last thirty-five years. Upon learning of LIFE AS A HOUSE and it's deep meaning of spirituality between a dying man and the house he builds and loves, I didn't hesitate to rush to the movie theater to see it. I've mentioned this before (and I'll say it again) - I have a deep, personal appreciation for stories involving people and the homes they live in; THE LAKE HOUSE (2006) and UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN (2003) being two prime examples. This film, which stars Kevin Kline as a divorced father dying quickly of cancer is, perhaps, the best I've seen under this specific story category. The house itself may be a simple and unassuming wood structure, but it's on a California cliff overlooking the ocean and the sunset, and that counts for so much in a tale of the human spirit.

George Monroe (Kline), a fabricator of architectural models (a function in the world of the architectural profession that virtually doesn't exist anymore), is fired from his job after twenty years on the same day he learns he has terminal cancer (that's got to be one of the worst double blows I've ever heard of!). There's a particularly enjoyable moment when, in a rather quiet fit of rage, George smashes all of the models he ever built for his firm as a sweet vengenace for being let go (you go, George!). As medical treatment is considered futile, he decides the time has come to demolish the ramshackle home left to him by his father and replace it with a house more in keeping with the ambiance of his upscale neighborhood. Although dying, George is now liberated from the job he hated and has the funds to finally make his dream house come true. On the dark side (other than dying!), his relationship with his teenage son Sam (played by a pre-Anakin Skywalker Hayden Christensen) has all-but completely fallen apart. Although George hasn't been the "perfect" father over the last ten years, one almost can't blame him from being alienated from his son. Sam is an angst-ridden, self-loathing, rebellious, pill-popping, glue-sniffing, grade A asshole with blue hair, makeup, a number of piercings and possesses an annoying tendancy to constantly whine and moan to the point of pathetic tears. In short, he's probably one of the best screen examples of a good reason NEVER to have children! And I have to say that somehow Christensen manages to pull off the character of an irriting "crybaby" quite effectively (no wonder George Lucas thought he'd turn to the dark side of the Force so easily!). As a last effort, George forces Sam to spend the summer with him and to help him build his house.

Now I'll be the first to admit that what takes place over the rest of the entire film is quite predictable and loaded with every cliche you'd expect...and I absolutely love it! The story ultimately fullfills everything we want to see happen with these characters. Slowly, George and Sam develop an understanding and a friendship as the house they're building progresses day-by-day. George redevelops a love and understanding with his ex-wife Robin (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) who has (rather conveniently) fallen out of love with her current husband. Friends and neighbors come to George's aid to help get the house finished before his time runs out. Yes, it seem that while George lives, triumph is destined to bless his existence and his efforts. Even when the local building inspector tries to cite George for having an open toilet in his living space without any enclosure, he solves the problem (in another fit of rage) by taking a chainsaw and cutting an armoire in half to enclose the toilet and then cuts a hole in the wall to comply with the issue of required ventilation. Maybe the average viewer can't see the true genius of this sequence, but believe me when I tell you that as an architect, it's something many of us in the profession would likely love to get away with!

The final cliche of LIFE AS A HOUSE is that George won't be saved in the end and he will die. What he'll leave behind, though, is priceless, not only in the love he's enriched his family with, but in the house that will make a difference is someone's it turns out, not the life you'd expect. Sam inherits the house, yes, but in an unexpected move, he decides to give the house away to a woman in a wheelchair; a woman, whom when she was a little girl, was the victim of a terrible car accident that George's drunken father was responsible for. So you see? Whether you can personally relate to this story or not, life in the end truly is a house.

Favorite line or dialogue:

George Monroe (voice-over): "I always thought of myself as a house. I was always what I lived in. It didn't need to be big. It didn't even need to be beautiful. It just needed to be mine. I became what I was meant to be. I built myself a life. I built myself a house."

Me, too, George. Me, too.

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