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Romulus, My Father

Romulus, My Father is a film adaptation from a memoir by the Australian writer and philosopher Raimond Gaita. The story takes place beginning in the nineteen twenties when Raimond is born to a somewhat dysfunctional family. He lives with his father a Romanian immigrant in New South Wales, Australia and their mother lives in a nearby big city where she continually has love affairs outside of marriage. The father and Raimond live and work on a somewhat isolated farm, yet there are enough neighbors who keep them company and help out in all the family crises and celebrations.

As much as I love books and reading and even though I feel that the printed word often has more power than the visual, I also found myself believing that film can also lend itself to portray complex events in a human life, their vacuity, their poignancy, and their impact. In Romulus, one sees the gradual decline in the health of the father as he becomes less and less capable of sustaining the lies and deceit of his wife. One also sees the effects that this conflict has on their young son, who as time passes in the movie becomes more vacant and shows visible signs of a growing hopelessness. The father tries to find a balance through a hard work ethic which is portrayed beautifully in the film by sweeping shots of the Australian countryside and long scenes of him working. These add a rhythm that the viewer can almost feel, one can feel his anguish. In contrast, the rhythm of the scenes in which there is fighting and conflict in the family is much more urgent and also somewhat reckless. An example of this is during one of the final conflict scenes during which brief shots of the different characters and cut off sentences add an element of confusion. This is a very effective way of portraying a situation which is full of confusion since neither party knows exactly where the other party stands or his thoughts. A written version of these same scenes would seem to have to be much more explicit in order to evoke this confusion. The isolation of the son from his family is clearly visible in scenes which portray a visual emptiness which portrays his anguish and despair.

I began to wonder how my life would be portrayed in a film memoir. I would choose long drawn out shots to portray the seemingly insurmountable distance that separated my small hometown from the rest of civilization. Likewise, I would have short, cut shots portray my failures in my relationships and family problems. I would use short sequential shots to portray my hectic life during the week. I would start with a shot of about 10 seconds in which I was jumping on a bus that is late and already full, and I would be bumping into people. Then it would cut to me walking in late to class with a look of despair on my face. Another cut would feature me eating a hot pocket while reading. Then a call from a girl and me saying “why don’t you want to see me anymore?? My weekends would be portrayed as a mixture of confused shots taken in bars with a blurry camera focus and then a dull long shot of me being lazy and trying to figure out what I did and what I need to do (in front of the TV). All these shots would take up around on minute on film, and I could also add some more from my youth, my time in the Navy and my time in France. But then I realize the problem, they wouldn’t really have any meaning. That is not to say that I don’t believe that I have done interesting things with my life and met interesting people, but that I don’t know how to connect these images and experiences to give meaning and significance to them. The Memoir, it seems to me, can only be undertaken by someone who has a strong self awareness and who has spent a significant amount of time to figure out their life. Unfortunately, I am not yet one of those people and nor do I believe that my life would hold enough interesting events to fill a memoir. I do on the other hand believe that memoirs like Romulus, My father have the ability to teach people how to analyze their life. In reading how others analyze their lives, I think that everyone can gain a sense of the significant events and people who have affected their own life. In other words, the memoir instills a reflective spirit in the reader and it is for that that I do not share the disdain for them that is common today.