I’ll warn you anyway, even though I’m sure you’ve come to expect them: this post contains spoilers.
‘Wakefield’ is an incredible film. I can’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. Bryan Cranston who, let’s face it, is tremendous in everything he does, does not disappoint.
In ‘Wakefield’, Cranston plays Howard, a successful lawyer, with a lovely home in the suburbs, a beautiful wife, great kids, and all the attendant stress that comes with such an ideal existence.
He’s a little blunt in his speech, doesn’t queue up for his coffee but rather goes straight to the till, barging past a heaping helping of waiting consumers (this rather goes against the grain to an English person, who would queue for a funeral). Howard is very focussed, as his career demands, but he’s exhausted.
Returning home from another tiring day at work, his train loses power and he is compelled to complete his journey on foot. He avoids a couple of phone calls from his wife. Howard pretends to be jealous when his wife pretends to flirt with someone else. So much of his life has become a power-play.
Almost to the end of his drive, he sees a raccoon go up the stairs and into a room above his garage. So many of us can sympathise with his not really wanting to deal with it, but having to nonetheless. And that’s when it happens. Having successfully scared the animal away, Howard catches a glimpse of his wife and children through the kitchen window, talking and preparing dinner, and he becomes fascinated – by the sight of his life without him in it.
I have read in online forums that people think Howard is having a nervous breakdown. I, respectfully, disagree. There’s little question in my mind: what Howard is experiencing in the course of this film is an extreme reaction to male menopause. I don’t think male menopause is taken as seriously as it should be. The fact is, lives are torn down by a loss of self; the sensation of relentless change, and the unenviable task of trying to push back against the tide with little result but wet sleeves, is familiar.
We all know someone who goes a little mad in the middle years. Mostly, this is confined to looped earrings and ill-advised affairs.
Howard needs an escape from his life, and so he sleeps in the room above his garage, not answering his wife’s calls, not stirring until he realises he may be late for work. He doesn’t understand why he’s doing what he’s doing, but he has no intention of going back into the house just yet. He rescues his dinner from the wheelie bin; luckily, it’s still edible. Another decision is made, almost without his bidding. He will not re-enter the house until his wife has left for work. He has no instinct to appear weak.
Howard imagines the telephonic enquiry from his wife to his office; he’s having a little bit of fun with this. He’s not especially sympathetic, and perhaps we are wondering how we can possibly warm to a man who has, in effect, deserted his family. It helps that he’s funny. And, as we come to realise as the film goes on, he hasn’t left his family.
He’s abandoned himself.
His wife’s reactions are spot-on, she started out angry but now she’s worried, as any wife would be. She calls his office, a few friends, and then the police. Howard is pissing in a jar above the garage and watching as she digs through the cheque book to see if any funds are missing. She hands the police a photo of her husband. What sparse information his wife has been able to provide has given the police something to investigate. She’s devastated. She’s Jennifer Garner, incidentally.
Enter Beverly D’Angelo. She’s the wife’s friend who manages to make her buddy’s terror, would-be tragedy, her moment to shine.
Looking at Howard’s life without him in it, he becomes a blend of commentator and audience. He begins living off the food his family throws away. Howard watches his wife get undressed at the window. He needs a shave but he has decided to vanish. And so he does. He stays in the garage, through all the many and varied daily panics; he knows he’s left his wife with unanswerable questions but these fail to send him through the door.
Howard rids himself of phone, credit cards and the daily commute. This will be his life now: dumpster diving, ratty beard and long, lank hair, armed with an aged tennis racquet to scare off the other bums.
I do like Howard’s assessment of the invisible jobs. The things you only notice when they haven’t been completed. Paying of bills, cleaning of gutters, that sort of thing. He’s left all that to his wife now. She is unaccustomed. He refers to himself as possibly deceased.
Only when he is in danger on the street, does he tidy himself up and go back to the house. And then, credits. Holy lord, the possible scenarios with which I am left…
An old friend of mine, who is now nicknamed Syphilis, had his male menopause at 37. Rather early, of course, but he wound up trying every drug he could find to see what effect, if any, it would have on his penis. He tried all manner of illegal stuff, and then he went online shopping. Syphilis bought Viagra off the internet. He had thought to go for hours, like a porn star.
He wound up in tears, running hot and cold with shaking sweats, he messed his trousers, and had to be carried into casualty by his best friend. Eight hours of turgid awfulness later, he recovered.
Syphilis had to attend a doctor’s appointment because he’d been brought in as an emergency. It was at that time his doctor told him, at his age, if he’d needed a little assistance (which he was at pains to explain, he wasn’t), the doctor would have prescribed 25mg. What syphilis had taken were 100mg tablets. Two of them.
Syphilis only got worse, spreading Deep Heat on his man parts because it felt great on his aching shoulders. His wife found him crying in the bathroom, the shower head running to freezing held right up against his unmentionables.
He began an affair with an adult film actress. Within two months of their getting together, he was spending enough on her handbags and shoes to support a small nation. He was also looking at prices for a car battery because their sex life needed a little pep. Already.
As previously reported, people go a little crazy sometimes.