Diane (2018)

Directed by Kent Jones

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In some ways, at least from a poor description of the plot, this is a slasher movie.  It might not seem that way, definitely not from the trailer, but it is.  Diane tells the quiet story of a woman caring for friends and family, some already dying, some soon to die and others simply playing with fire.

Of these the most notable are a cousin already in the waning weeks of cervical cancer and a son struggling with an opiate addiction.  In each case the transformative moments in these storylines come fairly early in the story, allowing for ample time after the fact.  It is thus not about what happens to these characters or to Diane but rather where her caring nature comes from and what it brings her (or doesn’t).

The most dominant feeling in the film is one of loss.  Some of these losses are visible from a mile away, and others come out of the blue.  They never feel cheap, but they are certainly surprising, just in the way life can be sometimes.

At one point in the story Diane and an elderly aunt discuss how when you’re young it feels like no one you know will ever die.  In Diane such a feeling is almost antithetical.  The characters here, at a certain point, all feel within an inch of their lives because the entire focus is on the ways things come to an end, quietly so.

It’s quite devastating but never exactly tragic.  Such a thing is handled here with care and a certain sense of humor.  Death is inevitable, and in each instance there are lives to be carried on afterwards.

Getting back to Diane (Mary Kay Place), however, she is a caring figure but a tormented one.  We will learn later into the story how she has wronged those in her life, mostly due to one instance twenty years back, and how this influences her behavior.  She is not just a saintly figure but one driven by a certain degree of guilt and self-criticism.

The question then is raised, about why she is “good” and whether it matters why.  Her caring nature will bring her close to some in her life, but in other instances it doesn’t correct any rift or conflict.  It is an attempt to create meaning and to maintain contact, but it guarantees nothing.  In fact there really are so many times in the film in which her attempts to heal old wounds and prevent new ones feels feckless and doomed.

And yet Diane seems a pretty brave figure.  She’s hard to get a firm grasp on only because, I think, she’s a pretty well-rounded character.  She isn’t defined by a single trait, and the arc of her story doesn’t demonstrate any obvious transformation.  Instead she is humbled, pained, determined and continues to persist.

Diane actually feels quite a lot like Paul Schrader’s First Reformed.  Both films follow an older character living mostly in isolation and looking for meaning.  They are burdened and there is even a similar sense of transcendentalism in various moments of the film.  We are firmly in their perspective, privy to even their most intimate thoughts, and soon the film as a whole is defined by their subjectivity.

Up Next: M (1931), Dragged Across Concrete (2018), The Souvenir (2019)

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