October 31, 2017


SuburbiconThe ongoing dumbing down of film criticism and cinematic taste rears its ugly head a lot these days, especially when it comes to that rarest of film genres, satire. Just as critical forces attempted to shame Darren Aronofsky’s excellent social satire (posing as a psychological thriller) “mother!” out of theaters, the same ones are denying that the George Clooney-Grant Heslov-Coen Brothers collaboration “Suburbicon” is anything other than a black comedy gem. How long will it be before these films receive their proper place in the Criterion Collection? Not long.

It’s telling that these sharply allegorical films are getting the shaft in an America that has descended into an uncivil war of culture under Donald Trump’s idiotic leadership. By their very nature, satires demand more from their audience than your typical dramas or superhero movies. Deeply seeded questions about which characters you can empathize with, and why, provoke intellectually demanding responses. Satires contextualize widespread social norms and political behavior into stylized frameworks that allow us to inspect ulterior motivations under a specialized cinematic magnifying glass. Satire is a genre to which Cinema is ideally suited, but the form is being marginalized as never before.


The title says a lot. “Suburbicon” references the McCarthy era American Dream where diversity meant white people infiltrating formerly rural areas in bland suburban sprawls of brainwashed conformity where right-wing racists could live in safe little echo chambers of their own. A lot people are being conned, and everyone with a modicum of power is in on the con. This is one prickly con game to which billions of people have been exposed. Such capitalist (read racist) ambition is fueled by a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality, just so long as the Joneses aren’t black people.  

So it is that “Suburbicon” presents a not so mythic 1959 version of homogeneity where white folk have come from as far as “Mississippi” to escape black people who they consider a burden on the society that blacks were enslaved into building. The irony is built in. When a black family named Meyers (yes, they could even be Jewish) moves in to the white bread housing project, white residents rally together in protest by gathering in front of the Meyers home to sing “We Shall Overcome,” oblivious that they’re singing a gospel song that became a protest anthem for the Civil Rights Movement. Co-opting the tools of the victim is standard operating procedure.  


For those born in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, there are plenty of canny references about how America’s patriarchy spoon-feeds society justice for the entitled, greedy white rich men who still run the show. The local (clearly racist) police chief is on the lookout for Jews, regardless of how non-Jewish anyone’s name might be.

The film presents a brief allegory of post-World War II racist ideologies that have persisted as a hydra of economically-driven hatred so perverse that rational minds retreat on contact.   

Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) lives with his disabled wife Rose (Julianne Moore) and their 10-year-old son Nicky (Noah Jupe). Rose lost her ability to walk in a car accident where Gardner was driving. Rose still holds a grudge. Perhaps Gardner isn’t the stand-up guy he presents with pokerfaced sincerity. Rose’s identical twin sister Maggie (also played by Moore) is a constant fixture at the family’s 99% all white housing development home. Trouble ignites when Gardner awakens Nicky and brings the boy into the living room to witness a couple of mob thugs robbing the home and chloroforming the family. Bigger problems are just beginning.


Smuggled into the narrative is a dark coming-of-age story that speaks directly to the potentially abusive relationship of racist parents and their unsuspecting children. The film’s secret weapon is Nicky’s point-of-view as the film’s surprise protagonist.      

A mob debt and a life insurance scam are pieces in a narrative puzzle where white men set society’s ground rules with instructive hints about their prejudices and greed. When a [white] grocery store manager demands $20 per item (regardless of their actual price) from Mrs. Meyers, the harasser’s message is clear; you can’t shop here if you’re black. The indoctrination of American children via such jealously guarded entitlement equals fraud.

The cracks in America’s longstanding patriarchal methods of intimidation and theft of life and dignity are igniting a volcanic reaction. The Harvey Weinsteins and Donald Trumps of the world are being dumped into the trash bin of history. Their fall from a long-held stranglehold of power can’t can’t come soon enough. The poison is in their sandwich now.     


Rated R. 104 mins. (A-) (Four stars — out of five / no halves) 

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