"There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false." - Harold Pinter
Ely Landau's American Film Theater production of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, directed by Peter Hall, has just been released on DVD as part of a retrospective of the AFT's two years of outstanding film versions of selected plays. An engrossing rendition of Pinter's disturbing play, The Homecoming is brilliant in its malevolent and macabre humor and the performances are first rate. On the surface it is a depiction of a slightly mad family in which two brothers lust over a third brother's wife. Underneath it is a surreal caricature of domestic life that focuses on the dark impulses that lie beneath the thin veneer of civility. In Pinter's view, what passes for authentic behavior is merely a cover for the irrational and the play demonstrates how power and memory can be used as tools of control. As in all of Pinter's work, the dialogue is razor sharp and often over the top, consisting of verbal thrusts and parries, ridicules, strategies, mutual warfare, and maneuvering for position.
Set in an older but spacious house in North London, the men prowl around each other like animals ready for the kill. Their mother Jessie is dead. The remaining family consists of two brothers, their father and uncle. Max (Paul Rogers), the menacing, slightly demented but still roaring old patriarch is a retired butcher with an acid tongue. His brother, Sam, a chauffeur is an unmarried man in his sixties and something of a dandy. The brothers are both working class louts. Lenny, delightfully performed by a dapper Ian Holm, is a sleazy pimp and borderline criminal, while Joey (Terence Rigby) is a demolitions expert and would-be boxer who spends most of his spare time training at the local gym.
The equilibrium is disturbed when the oldest brother Teddy (Michael Jayston), a Professor of Philosophy, arrives with Ruth, his wife of nine years Ruth (Pinter's wife at the time, Vivien Merchant) in London to visit the family she has never met. The focus of the hostility is now focused on the young couple and the father unleashes one tirade after another, calling Ruth a slut and a whore. From the beginning there is tension in the relationship between Teddy and Ruth and they both seem uncomfortable. The dialogue between family members is filled with comic touches and the characters use threats, intimidation, and power games to gain advantage over each other.
Even Ruth, a woman who has been exploited successfully plays off one brother against the other and both against her husband. Rationality becomes less and less apparent as the play progresses with the two younger brothers making passes at Ruth in front of her bewildered and strangely passive husband. Teddy only watches as Ruth joins with his brothers, perhaps because he realizes that on the deepest level he has been separate from her for years. The Homecoming is a work that does not yield to immediate deciphering and has given critics much to chew on for thirty-nine years. Pinter's plays are not about psychological realism and the actions of his characters are not always coherent or rational. He moves easily from realism to surrealism, and it is often difficult to distinguish between the reality and the dream.
One critic said, "Like Buñuel, Pinter demonstrated that only a slight shift in perspective is needed to make human behavior appear insane, and showed how easily the veneer of 'civilization' can be swept aside in favor of something more revealing". The Homecoming can be looked at it in many ways and there is enough ambiguity to allow the audience to interpret it from their own frame of reference. As Pinter biographer Michael Billington notes, "You can never say with Pinter that one interpretation is wholly right or another wholly wrong. What you can say, with reasonable certainty, is that the play continues to get under our collective skins". It definitely got under mine but I loved every minute of it.
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1 hr 54 min