- Jul 6, 2003
The Door In The Floor
Running Time: 111 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Subtitles: French and Spanish
Audio: English and French – Dolby Digital 5.1
December 14th, 2004
Director Tod Williams’ The Door In The Floor, an adaptation of John Irving’s novel “A Widow For One Year”, is a very busy and challenging motion picture. Indeed, a veritable roller coaster ride of emotions, the film takes viewers through situations that are sexually charged, humorous, tragic, and ultimately touching and human. At its core, however, The Door In The Floor is the chronicle of a group of very rich and complex personalities, who reveal both their qualities and character flaws as the movie progresses.
The main character, Ted Cole (played magnificently by Jeff Bridges), is a writer who specializes in writing short books for children, much like those written by Dr. Seuss. Apparently, his writing has received some recognition, and one of his books, “The Door In The Floor” was quite a popular title. His artistic talents are not confined to writing, however, as he also enjoys painting – an interest which later proves to be an important aspect of the story.
Early into the film, as a favor to a friend, Ted brings a local college student, Eddie O’Hare (Jon Foster), on board as an assistant, despite the fact he doesn’t really need help with his work. As we are introduced to Eddie, we learn that he is an aspiring writer, who is hoping to hone his skills by being in the presence of a talented, published author like Mr. Cole.
Since Mr. Cole has no real duties to assign to him, Eddie’s days are quite leisurely, and almost boring. One of the duties that does typically fall Eddie’s way, however, is filling in for Alice (Bijou Phillips), the baby sitter for Ted’s daughter Ruth (Elle Fanning), who is very close with her father. Indeed, Ted initially seems to be the perfect father, spending plenty of quality time with Ruth, including a lot spent looking over the family photographs that adorn the walls within the Cole home. This simple and innocent activity is also the first clue that something is amiss, as each of these photographs apparently has a tale to tell, and little Ruth has them all committed to memory.
By now, you may be wondering where Ruth’s mother is. Well, interestingly enough, although Marion (Kim Basinger) still lives in the home, her marriage to Ted has been torn apart by the death of their two sons. Sadly, things have gotten so bad for the couple that they have agreed to a “trial separation”, although it appears their marriage is really all but over. In fact, their living arrangement seems to be solely for Ruth’s benefit, so that she will always have one of her parents on hand.
Of course, having such tension in a house is not a good thing, and eventually something has to break down. It is only a matter of time before things escalate, and when Eddie enters the house, they do – and fast. More specifically, once Eddie meets Marion, he becomes obsessed with her, to the point that he begins having sexual fantasies about her. Soon, Marion catches Eddie “acting out” one of his fantasies, and rather than lashing out at him, she ends up fulfilling his fantasy and sparking off a torrid affair between them.
Marion is not the only one with a darker side though, especially as it relates to sexuality. You see, while Ted writes children’s books, their content is really quite disturbing, and his particular fondness, in terms of his painting, is decorating his canvas with portraits of nude women. The content of these too, becomes increasingly crude as the summer in which this story is set passes by. At the time we encounter these characters, Ted is doing a portrait of a woman named Evelyn Vaughn (Mimi Rogers), which brings out the most sinister aspects of his character. As you might expect, the two are also having an affair, which brings the battered and broken relationship between the Coles to the crossroads. Can they overcome all of the tragedy in their lives and find their way back to each other, or are they destined to become yet another couple who loved each other once and lost themselves along the way?
I can’t divulge any more, but the story continues to unfold, laying bare the fascinating characters in The Door In The Floor, and building up to a conclusion that is effective, but not as satisfying to me as the rest of the film. Substance-wise, it is fine, but I have a problem with the way in which Williams chose to play it out as a flashback
. To me, however, that misstep is overcome by the fascinating way these seemingly decent, normal characters’ layers are stripped away to reveal the ugly sides of their personas - selfishness, vindictiveness, and self-absorption. In fact, I think this aspect of the film is even more interesting than the story.
Even more interesting (and effective) is the movie’s distant, matter-of-fact approach, which allows the viewer to develop a unique emotional attachment to the relatively depressing material. To take this a step further, in my opinion, the true genius in the way The Door in the Floor is put together is evident in how the natures of its characters slowly become evident without any overt efforts by the filmmakers to steer viewers to those discoveries. Really, in re-analyzing this film, I am even more impressed by how Tod Williams’ script subtly changed my perception of them, without radically changing the characters themselves.
To that end, the terrific performances by Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger keep the film running along smoothly and steadily, even as Ted and Marion are both revealed to be less wholesome than they originally seemed. Indeed, not that the material they are working with is not good, but I think the presence of Bridges and Basinger is what gives the film the majority of its spark. This is particularly true of Jeff Bridges, who skillfully pulls off his characters transition from a loving, attentive father into a cold, vicious, and jaded man, and yet still manages to remain likeable.
The supporting cast, especially Elle Fanning and Jon Foster, is also very good. True, Foster plays a character that is somewhat timid for most of the film, but his performance is still noteworthy, especially in the latter stages of the film, when his character becomes more confident. The main reason for this is that Foster instills Eddie with the mild temperament and reverence of Ted that makes him a perfect pawn in what will become a sick game between the adults in the house. Foster also handles the growth in his character effortlessly during the latter stages of the film.
To be sure, the movie does contain an occasional hiccup, and the style chosen for the closing sequence left a slightly bad taste in my mouth, but it is a very interesting ride that concludes in a satisfactory manner. In addition, the film is technically solid, featuring stunning cinematography, the aforementioned powerful performances, and professional direction of this touching story. Bottom line, The Door In The Floor is an engaging, well-acted character study that does its job well enough to really make me want to pick up the book it was based on. If you don’t mind a dark tale, give this one a spin!
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Universal offers Focus Features’ The Door in the Floor in its original aspect ratio (2.35:1), which has been enhanced for widescreen displays. On the whole, things look good, particularly colors, which are bright and well saturated, with no noticeable bleed or chroma noise. This bodes well, since the story occurs during the summertime, and the warm hues of summer are presented nicely!
Black level is also deep and stable throughout, so shadow delineation is above average, and I did not detect the presence of edge enhancement or compression artifacts in any quantity I would consider objectionable. Indeed, about the only quibble I had was that the image looked a little on the “soft” side on occasion, which obscured background/small object detail to a degree. In all other respects, the transfer is fine, presenting the source in a clean, film-like manner that leaves little room for complaints.
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
I would be astonished if you did not gauge this from my description of the plot, but The Door In The Floor is very heavy on dialogue. That being the case, the Dolby Digital 5.1 channel mix has little trouble presenting the source material in the way the filmmakers intended it to be heard.
For a film like this, the most important thing is that characters’ speech is consistently rendered in a warm, natural, and error free fashion, and in this regard, the DD track gets high marks. Fortunately, the score, ambient noises, and sound effects are rendered in an equally clear and precise manner.
Now, as you probably expected, the vast majority of the audio coming from the front of the soundstage, as there is not a whole lot here for the rears and the subwoofer to do. Still, the soundstage exhibits a decent sense of space across the front channels, and The Door In The Floor’s audio information is presented accurately enough for me to say that it is definitely done justice.
The feature-length commentary for The Door In The Floor is turned in by a gaggle of individuals, including director Tod Williams, director of photography Terry Stacey, editor Affonso Gonçalves, composer Marcelo Zarvos, and costume designer Eric Daman. Given the roles they played in getting this film made, their comments lean towards the technical side of things, but it is still an enjoyable listen, and I would imagine that sentiment would ring particularly true if you enjoyed the film.
Frame On The Wall
“Frame On The Wall”, which runs for 25 minutes, is a detailed and intelligent behind-the-scenes look at the production of The Door In The Floor. During its running time, viewers will see director Tod “Kip” Williams talk about his love for the characters in John Irving’s novel, and about their characteristics. He also discusses how he adapted the book for the screen and pitched the idea to Irving himself.
Subsequently, the film’s producers talk about the casting process, and some of the things that John Irving fought for (he really wanted Williams to direct). As you might expect, the stars of the film also speak, generally about their preparation for their roles, what they though was important about the story, the contributions made by their fellow actors, and what a treat it was to work with “Kip”.
I know it sounds like your typical “making of”, and indeed, all of the same bases are covered, but as I said earlier the level of thoughtfulness, detail, and respect for the work exhibited here makes it a very worthwhile viewing experience.
Novel To Screen
This roughly 15-minute extra consists of an extremely energetic and thoughtful interview with novelist John Irving, who offers his thoughts on the adaptation of his novel into a feature-length motion picture that is quite different from his book “A Widow For One Year”. Mr. Irving is a good speaker, and he has a lot to say, particularly about the differences between the mediums of film and books, and about the “blueprint” for successfully adapting a novel for the screen.
Anatomy Of A Scene
The approximately 25-minute featurette “Anatomy of a Scene”, a Sundance Channel Original, takes viewers behind-the-scenes for a look at the creation of one of the pivotal scenes in The Door In The Floor. More specifically, the orchestration of the scene is covered, especially the attempt to balance the comedy and drama within that particular sequence. Everyone you would expect to hear from makes an appearance, including Tod Williams, Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger, and key members of the crew.
At the beginning of the featurette, some of the speakers’ names are not visible on screen, but they are later identified, and if you have watched the other featurettes first, you should be familiar with all of the individuals anyway.
A Cautionary Note: If you have not seen the film, do not watch this piece first, as it contains spoilers!
There is a promo for Focus Features, as well as trailers for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Wimbledon
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THE LAST WORD
The Door In The Floor is a very thoughtful and well-executed adaptation of John Irving’s novel, “A Widow For One Year”. The story, while a bit dark, is very interesting, the acting is top-shelf, and the film’s visuals and score are also great. The DVD goes a step further, presenting the film very nicely, and offering three detailed featurettes and a solid audio commentary. All in all, that makes The Door In The Floor an easy recommendation!