The Eye of the Storm is a turbulent tale of familial tension from the aging matriarch’s off-kilter purplish wig to the slight kicking of the daughter’s foot on furniture bystanders. It’s 1973 and an elderly woman (Charlotte Rampling) is living alone, with the exception of her servants. She is an aged beauty traipsing through her lonely reality and past glamour. The plot begins as her offspring decide to visit, a son (Geoffrey Rush) titled by acting merit and a daughter (Judy Davis) titled by marriage, and both feel entitled to their mother’s fortune before her own transpiring. Subtle performances by a trio of well-honed actors, incisive with their razor-sharp restraint, the audience will make rash inferences only to evolve into developing a greater understanding of the tumultuous depth of this family’s issues, deep-seeded beyond even the children’s awareness.
To the outside world, it will look like two children have flown back to the coop to check in on the mother hen. From the servants’ perspective, the two birds are looking for their inheritance and how to lessen their mother’s expenditure. The reality is much harder to explain, the players barely able to utter the words themselves and this unspoken conflict twists the knife. As the mother battles her fading days and imminent death, her children attempt to decipher their latest purposes in life.
The son’s latest foray on the stage, King Lear no less, was panned by critics and he has been set adrift amongst winking smiles, boozing glory, and strangers’ beds. Basil Hunter (Rush) is not ready to go into that good night of maturity and responsibility, still looking for checks from mummy and not looking to settle down anytime soon. Having accomplished all that he set out to do, at the expense of himself and others, Basil is alone in his silent thoughts and regrets. Against his usual bravado, Geoffrey Rush gives a resounding performance as a man forced to reconsider his overconfidence on the stage and what he has overlooked in real life.
The daughter’s aristocratic marriage has crumbled and she is trying to piece together an identity of her own. Through her mother’s neglect and her husband’s roughness, Dorothy de Lascabanes (Davis) has become a neurotic wreck, although one would not be able to tell that by appearances alone. Taking painstaking care of her appearance, Dorothy orchestrates a lovely-looking façade of pearls and appropriate attire and enforces proper behavior amongst her mother’s staff, all the while attempting to hide her nervous ticks and sporadic kicks. Judy Davis, resembling American Beauty’s Carolyn Burnham, deftly plays with constrained physicality as her character continues to seek her mother’s approval and apology.
The mother plays the source of the family’s maladies with little sympathy beyond the woes of aging. Elizabeth Hunter (Rampling) is a cat-like creature, fickle with her affections to both her children and servants. Elizabeth paws for her children’s attentions and at the vanities of her servants, just as she had with her string of past lovers. Confounding the viewer in regards to her motives, she shows little remorse for inflicted pain on family and companions and little recognition of her present surroundings. As only an actress of her graceful aging, Charlotte Rampling treats Mrs. Hunter as an intriguing balance of the malicious vixen and the twilight-nearing matriarch.
The Eye of the Storm is a fantastic film that totters the line between drama and melodrama, nearly falling and slicing the audience to shreds. Throughout the film, the characters grapple with their predicaments and the audience’s task is to decipher the multitude of past broken shards of betrayal, neglect, and loss. Through superb acting and weather-tested direction, the film avoids such temptations as exaggerated characterizations and melodrama to present the audience with a touching, if depressing, portrait of an outwardly glamorous, inwardly disastrous family. The pretensions hearken to a by-gone era, but the tensions remain to resonate with the current day audience.
Directed by Fred Schepisi, original novel written by Patrick White, adapted for the screen by Judy Morris, produced by Paper Bark Film Pty. Ltd. Look out for the film on VOD.