Forty Shades of Blue

Forty Shades of Blue

I like Rip Torn. There’s almost always something compelling about the characters he plays.

Forty Shades of Blue to me is a lot more about the individual and social psychology of several well-drawn characters and their interaction than it is about a particularly eventful or exciting plot. It’s kind of like, let’s throw together a few interesting individuals and see what develops, and think about why it does.

Torn plays a prominent music producer in Memphis. He is a larger-than-life, grab all the gusto you can, hard drinking, hard sexing, figure. He so dominates his world—including with anger at times—that he can sometimes run over people, and he’s so intent on pursuing his own ends that he can be inconsiderate of even those closest to him, and so he damages lives, even while also gaining many admirers for the good he does in the world and for individuals.

But he’s mostly not a bad guy per se. There’s no real malice to him; it’s more just that he runs over people as a natural part of his personality. And he’s self-aware enough to know what he’s doing, and to know that it’s not always for the best. So he has sincere regrets, and he tries to make amends, but you sense that he’ll always be trying to make up for the damage rather than cease creating it, because to cease creating it would require him to be a completely different person.

His long time live-in girlfriend is a much younger Russian girl that he met in Moscow when he was there on business and she was apparently some kind of guide/translator/escort provided to him. She is a statuesque, icy blonde with the classic beauty and bearing of a model. She’s proper in style for the most part, measured in her words, sometimes impenetrable. But she doesn’t really come across in the negative ways that that might suggest. I wouldn’t say she’s haughty, arrogant, unfriendly, phony, etc., at least not unusually so. She’s reserved more than cold. I guess I would say that rather than being phony, she rarely reveals more than a little of herself, but what she does reveal is mostly genuine. You wonder how much of her style is a cultural thing.

Torn’s adult son, who comes for a visit from out of town, is evidently a middling at best academic who clearly has always disliked living in his father’s shadow and resents his father for his imperfect parenting. His marriage—his wife is not present initially but arrives later in the movie—is on the rocks, and in general he’s something of a mess and knows it and hates it.

The film is mostly about the interactions of these three characters. And it’s pretty good; it provides a lot to think about.

Torn is trying to do right by the other two in his sometimes clumsy and incomplete manner.

The girlfriend really has a lot going on psychologically. Her life is vastly better than she ever had any reason to expect had she stayed in Russia, but she’s having to deal with all the adjustment issues of being in a foreign land where she seemingly knows no one except the people she knows through her boyfriend, who no question frequently acts inconsiderately toward her. So is she trapped? She doesn’t seem completely miserable (though more so toward the end), but she’s also far from fulfilled and content.

I found the son probably the least sympathetic of the three. I understand where his father is coming from when he tells him that whatever it is that has made him the way he is, and has made certain things a struggle for him, and made him not as successful as he could have been, and however much it’s other people’s fault, at some point he needs to grow up and take responsibility for his own life and make that life what he wants it to be.

The son has ambivalent feelings about the girlfriend. At times he treats her like a sister, where they can commiserate with each other about how Torn has let them down. But he’s also clearly falling for her, and soon he’s pursuing her behind his father’s (and his own wife’s) back.

The latter made me a bit uncomfortable. It seemed too much a competitive, aggressive thing, wanting to show that he could take something of his father’s. And I was disappointed in the girlfriend insofar as she was receptive to his advances. However excusable it might be as a tit-for-tat thing given Torn’s dalliances with other women, I wanted her to be bigger than that.

Interesting that though the Torn character is the one I’d be least likely to be able to (or probably want to) connect with in real life, I somehow ended up the most sympathetic to him. As flawed as he is, I just got the sense he was doing the best he could. I suppose you could say the same about the other two, so I don’t know that I can justify feeling better about him than them, but that’s just how I reacted.

All-in-all, I wouldn’t rank Forty Shades of Blue near the top of the movies I’ve written about so far, but it held my interest reasonably well the whole time. As I say, not a huge amount happens, but there’s a certain vividness to the well-acted characters, and there’s a psychological depth to the movie. You feel like there are always more facets of these characters and their relationships to explore and think about.

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