AFI Fest 2010
By Don Simpson | November 20, 2010
Director: Alistair Banks Griffin
Writer(s): Alistair Banks Griffin
Starring: Brady Corbet, David Call, Ross Francis, Karen Young
Jack (Brady Corbet) and Louis (David Call) reside with their ailing mother (Karen Young) in the thick of the wilderness somewhere around the Mississippi-Louisiana border — the faint flicker of their oh so weak television signal is a brilliant metaphor for just how little modernity has infiltrated their family’s primitive back-country ways. As far as we can tell, they live completely off the land and practically off the grid.
When their mother dies, the brothers opt to not follow the normal burial procedures as instructed by their doctor; instead, they faithfully adhere to their mother’s parting wish of being buried in the lush wooded environs she loved so much. Louis likens their mother’s death to the death of an animal — you do not need to submit paperwork when you kill a deer, and his mother should be no different.
Louis and Jack construct their mother’s coffin by hand. When Louis reprimands Jack for hammering his nails the wrong way, Jack retorts that maybe his way is the correct way. Louis responds, “There is a right way and a wrong way to do things.” Coming after Louis’ debate with the doctor regarding their mother’s burial (in which he insists that he is right and the doctor is wrong), we begin notice a trend with Louis…
Once their mother is tucked away inside the coffin, Louis and Jack commence their Sisyphean journey to the burial site…which is, apparently, a few days’ hike downstream. It is not long before the two brothers find themselves at wit’s end, and their relationship comes to a head. (Scenes that detail the growing animosity between the two brothers were left out of the film on purpose.)
Alistar Banks Griffin’s directorial debut, Two Gates of Sleep is certainly Bressonian in its fascination with mood and environment rather than dialogue (a more contemporary comparison may also be made to Kelly Reichardt). Louis and Jack monopolize the screen for a majority of the film, and they are certainly not big on talking, but thanks to their silence, the organic sounds of the environment around them are allowed to engulf us completely (leaves crunching underfoot, water trickling over rocks, wind blowing, fire crackling). Nature also saturates the entirety of the projected image. The minute details of the dense forest and the ever-flowing river are absolutely magnificent in their sheer simplicity. Often Louis and/or Jack appear as an infinitesimal speck on the screen with the giant environmental landscape practically devouring them; the result is an overwhelming sensation of isolation, as the characters figuratively become part of the natural pattern of the forest. Shot by Jody Lee Lipes (Tiny Furniture), it is difficult not to use the word meditative while discussing the images; Two Gates of Sleep is just that, an existential and expressionistic meditation on death, dying and the harshness of life.