In the midst of movies that entertain, others that are disturbing for various reasons, and others that are mostly about nothing in particular, The Clearing is an exceptional small thriller about the transparency and ultimately the transcendence of married love.
Robert Redford plays Wayne, a self-made multi-millionaire who started is own car rental and then consulting business. Eileen, his wife, is played by Helen Mirren. Wayne gets kidnapped one day by the mentally ill, out-of-work, fanatical, and ambiguous Arnold, played by Willem Dafoe. Eileen’s family rallies around her and does the FBI. Soon enough a ransom request is made and secrets about Wayne are revealed.
Eileen lives in hope and follows all the kidnapper’s instructions.
And that’s all I can tell you or this will be a spoiler.
I call the film small because it is so focused on two men from two families. We meet and come to know Eileen, but we only know Arnold’s wife by what he says. Fuller, the FBI agent, admits that his marriage is in danger. Tim, Wayne and Eileen’s son, seems to be having a hard time adapting to fatherhood; their daughter worries that her dad may not have known she loved him.
The Clearing is about the journey toward awareness. Arnold and Wayne chat along the way; this communication is a symbol for their own lack of it with their spouses. At one point on their trek through the hills toward an isolated cabin, Arnold and Wayne come to a place where they can see the valley below. All of a sudden, as a storm breaks, Wayne sees the consequences of his life – family and work – and choices clearly. Arnold never really does.
I chatted with some ladies after the film. Two of them said that they were impressed because Helen Mirren never tries to hide her age. Neither does Redford in this film about what it takes to make a marriage and a life work. Even when the characters, played by our favorite actors, are flawed people in the stories they tell and grow older along the way, we come to understand that this is an opportunity for us to see clearly, too. This seems to be a film as much about Redford and Mirren as actors, as it is about Wayne and Eileen.
The audience can look at this film through the lens of relationships and family or through the social impact of what happens when the world of work changes and disinfanchises people. Arnold is out of work and living with his wife and daughter in his father-in-law’s house. He cannot take responsibility for his own life but becomes obcessed with Wayne’s life instead.
The Clearing wasn’t what I expected but it did not disappoint me either. Solid and satisfying.