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Albany, New York, Halloween, 1938. Francis Phelan and Helen Archer are bums, back in their birth city. She was a singer on the radio, he a major league pitcher. Death surrounds them: she's sick, a pal has cancer, he digs graves at the cemetery and visits the grave of his infant son whom he dropped; visions of his past haunt him, including ghosts of two men he killed. That night, out drinking, Helen tries to sing at a bar. Next day, Fran visits his wife and children and meets a grandson. He could stay, but decides it's not for him. Helen gets their things out of storage and finds a hotel. Amidst their mistakes and dereliction, the film explores their code of fairness and loyalty. Written by
Have you ever wondered what's it's like to be homeless? To most of us, it's as foreign an existence as the medieval world of Hugh Capet. And yet, it's a way of life that's within reach of all of us. And I'm not talking about its physical proximity, about the unfortunates we pass on the streets with their bed rolls on their backs: on the contrary, I'm referring to its spiritual, psychological proximity, to all the rest of us, who, given the right circumstances, could give up on our cheery Western materialist society and wander off into the shadows.
Ironweed takes its viewers into that shadowy world of the rail yards, cardboard shantytowns, underpasses, and abandoned automobiles, and shows us incisive glimpses of how a person arrives there. Featuring what I think are the very best performances by Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, Ironweed gets us deep into the sooty, grimy, bilious skin of the two `hobos.' Like Schindler's List, Ironweed is dark poetry. When the movie is over, you're haunted for days by the imagery.
Set in Albany during the Great Depression, Ironweed delivers not an ounce of moralizing. It's like a clinical exposition of the homeless person's entire life, both from without, and within. On the outside, of course, there's the Depression: a society doing the best it can to get by. From the `hobo's' point of view, one feels the implicit violence of a culture taught to view others as economic instruments of their own survival. The homeless, of course, are on the bottom end of the food chain. On the inside, Ironweed takes us into the intense pain of dashed hopes and expectations. From within and without, the homeless are caught in a whirling vortex that only grinds them down deeper and deeper into despair, the type that Kierkegaard's describes in `Sickness unto Death.' It's where intense poverty is not just physical, but spiritual.
This is a terrific movie; but, it's not for the faint of heart.
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