I saw The Daughter back in March and wrote this on returning home the same evening. It somehow got stuck in the draft area of my blog, so here it is now, late, but still of interest I hope.
As a writer working to complete a screenplay adaptation myself, I have become hyper-sensitive to screenplay and screenplay structure. This one is a real inspiration; a brilliant reworking of Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck by Simon Stone the film’s director, who also directed another of my favourite movies Jindabyne.
Stone directs theatre as well as film and it shows. That he also directs his own screenplay allows him to use all the filmic techniques necessary to bridge the gap between the two forms. What works on the stage can lack energy and tension on the big screen. In The Daughter, Stone strikes a delicate balance between the requirements of the two forms giving the film a wonderful theatricality which elevates it the level of the heroic. At the same time it has all the reality and energy required to work on the big screen.
This achievement would not have been possible without the cast, including big names Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill and Miranda Otto, working in a harmonious ensemble that must have made directing the film a real delight.
I heard Jason de Rosso, on The Final Cut , say that he felt there was a “hole in the film” where Geoffrey Rush should be and that Rush’s character “casts no shadow”, “lacks charm”. The way I see it is that Rush plays Henry as morally passive and the fact that he “lacks charm” is part of the conundrum of the powerful man and his ability to dominate others. Who ever said that Rupert Murdoch was charming?
It’s almost as if de Rosso wants Henry to be more “villainous”, but for Rush to have played Henry more to de Rosso’s taste would, I believe, have disturbed the finely balanced interplay of the ensemble cast. It would also have diminished the impact of the story’s premise, which is that evil happens not necessarily through evil intent, but more often as a mere side-effect of blind selfishness. Sometimes even as a result of good intentions on the part of flawed, short-sighted people, operating without self-insight.
There was one bit of acting that didn’t quite work for me though and that was Paul Schneider’s take on Christian, I just couldn’t get a coherent grasp of his motivation or rather of what he saw as his motivation at any particular time. Clearly his character was a divided and emotionally confused man but somehow this didn’t take roots in the energy of the character, rather it contaminated the performance.
The musical soundtrack is composed by Mark Bradshaw whose work also features in some of Jane Campions films. It threads itself sinuously through the film, never intruding, but sometimes taking centre stage in a subtle dance with the landscape.
As in his earlier movie Jindabyne Stone uses the soundtrack as a seperate narrative tool. One technique I remember from Jindabyne was the sudden disappearance of the soundtrack in silence. This is used to great dramatic effect in The Daughter. When one of the characters, Christian, smashes a chair in a rage we hear nothing. The act is merely destructive, conveys no truth, brings no relief, just as his attempts to bring out what he sees as the truth are merely destructive.
David Stratton talks about some other uses of this ‘division of sound from image’ device, in his review of March 12, 2006 The Australian
The first few minutes of the film are filled with lucidly presented information, achieved by the division of sound from image, so that often a conversation is heard on the soundtrack while quite separate visual information is depicted on screen.
This device not only allows Stone to establish characters, relationships and a certain amount of backstory swiftly and clearly, but it also dramatically depicts the complex linkages between the characters.
The ending is truly powerful and brings the drama to an emotionally satisfactory resolution at the same time as it leaves the story dangling. Another example of the way Stone is capable of separating out the individual threads of a process and weaving them in new exciting ways.
This is definitely a movie I would watch again.