The Bed You Sleep In, 1993

An unhurried, almost soporific succession of long and medium establishing shots of a bucolic logging town in the Pacific Northwest provides an entrancing and deceptively tranquil prelude to the impending – and perhaps, unavoidable – tragedy of The Bed You Sleep In. As the film opens, an unassuming, middle-aged, independent contractor named Ray Weiss (Tom Blair) struggling to keep his foundering lumber mill afloat receives the Pyrrhic news that his company has been awarded a contract to supply timber for an unnamed project: a potentially lucrative deal that has been rendered non-executable by his inability to provide the materials because of a log shortage caused by a protracted (and indefinite) delay in obtaining a regulatory permit that would allow the local companies to mine animal-protected areas of the forest beyond their nearly consumed, designated logging area. The ongoing and ostensibly irreconcilable conflict between private industry and environmental protection has resulted repercussions throughout the local economy of the insular community, creating widespread closure of mills and the reluctant forging of international trade agreements by desperate, blue-collar entrepreneurs despite their thinly veiled – if not immediately explicit – jingoism and xenophobia towards their foreign commercial partners. Nevertheless, the pressures of work and financial survival invariably recede when Ray drives to the nearby woods to spend his silent hours wading in the shallow waters of a pristine creek and fly fishes. It is a predictable ritual that his second wife Jean (Ellen McLaughlin) has learned to accommodate, even learning to weave her own emotional needs into his recreational pastime by occasionally accompanying him on his fishing trips to steal moments of intimacy. However, the Weiss’ comfortably settled relationship eventually becomes strained when an unsuspecting Jean receives a long, expurgating letter from Ray’s troubled, college-aged daughter Tracy who has unexpectedly decided to cancel her trip home a week before her anticipated arrival.

Jon Jost creates haunting and culturally incisive examination and demystification of non-conformity and self-reliance – what Herbert Hoover describes as the endemically American character of rugged individualism – in The Bed You Sleep In. Loosely recalling the ecological meditation of Mitsuo Yanagimachi’s Himatsuri and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s subsequent film Charisma, Jost alternately juxtaposes distended, alienating images of the near desolate industrial town, idyllic shots of the lush and scenic northwestern landscape, and elliptical (and deliberately fractured) episodes of Ray’s business and domestic life in order to examine the dynamic, often conflicting interrelation between independence and survival, personal freedom and anarchy, self-discipline and moral law. Citing a passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Every violation of the truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society”, the film illustrates, not only a violation of filial relationships, but more importantly, an overarching implicit contradiction in the country’s celebrated maverick spirit that actively participates in environmental destruction even as it seeks communion with – and oddly champions the cause of – nature and wildlife. In exposing the innate duplicity of a culturally fostered national trait, Jost provides a compelling and incisive argument for personal and global responsibility, accountability, and balance.

© Acquarello 2004. All rights reserved.

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