The BFI London Film Festival 2018 starts on 10 October, and one of its most arresting films is Wildlife. Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Jeanette Brinson (Carey Mulligan) are having marital difficulties thanks employment problems. It is 1960 and they have recently moved to a small Montana town with their 14 year old son, Joe (Ed Oxenbould). Jerry’s sacking from his job at the golf course (because he is too matey with members according to the club chairman) gets his goat. His pride, which has likely come before falls elsewhere too, leads him to refuse to return when club management realises it has lost an invaluable employee. After moping around at home while Jeanette goes out to work, Jerry ups and joins the wildfire fighters at a paltry $1 an hour. Unsurprisingly, Jeanette finds comfort elsewhere, in the perhaps unlikely shape of local car dealership owner Warren Miller (Bill Camp), a veteran of both World Wars who wears a leg caliper. Family life is put under strains too hard to bear.
Illustrating the old adage that when poverty flies in the window, love flies out the door, Wildlife simply lives the hard side of life of many people in the UK as well as the USA right now. Existence for most people in even the leading capitalist country, the USA, has never been a bowl of cherries: not in 1960 and not in 2018. Real wage rates have declined in the USA since the 1970s, social unrest held at bay in part thanks to the importation of cheap commodities made in China.
First time director Paul Dano has brought out the best from his cast and crew. And indeed those playing the Brinson family in Wildlife give excellent performances. This might be expected of the likes of Gyllenhaal and Mulligan, but 17 year old Ed Oxenbould’s Joe evokes such empathy that dry eyed viewers will be a minority. The humanity that this trio evinces, characters’ warts and all, expresses such poignancy about the breakup of their family and the circumstances of their lives, internal and external. But they are not broken individually by this, though saddened; each makes her or his choices as far as they can and come to learn to live with them. These choices are not deliberately to undermine or punish other family members: they are taken as the best worst way out from the tensions and trials that life if placing before each of them. How else do most of us cope with life’s vagaries?