• FILM

  • SEARCH FOR

The Neon Bible

Directed by Terence Davis. Starring Gena Rowlands, Jacob Tierney, Diana Scarwid, Denis O'Leary, Leo Burmester. (1995, NR, 182 min.)

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., July 5, 1996

An American cousin to his Distant Voices, Still Lives, Terence Davies' The Neon Bible is an autobiographical memory film that ponders the childhood mysteries of growing up in a troubled family. Set in rural Georgia during the Thirties and Forties, this film (interpreted from John Kennedy Toole's novel) is like a fragmented dream, depicting the life of a callow young boy named David who must cope with a father tortured by failure, an emotionally fragile mother, and a future without much hope. Thank God for the brash and flamboyant Aunt Mae, a honky-tonk singer (gamely played by Rowlands) who comes to stay with his family and soon becomes his touchstone. Davies tells David's story in a striking series of tableaux and dioramas, all impeccably executed to the last detail. As in Martin Scorsese's work, there's a great deal of control in Davies' directorial style, to the point that it seems totally lacking in spontaneity. But unlike a Scorsese movie, The Neon Bible implodes rather than explodes. The passion, the anger, and the pain of experience are suppressed, never culminating in catharsis. Where this approach worked in the powerful Distant Voices, Still Lives -- which recounted a young boy's suffering at the hands of an abusive father -- it has less success here. There's no compelling connection between movie and audience; a palpable distance separates the two. And while fundamentalist Christian references in The Neon Bible are many, religion is an ultimately superfluous theme in the film, shaping neither character nor narrative. (One wonders if, in the course of things, the British Davies fully appreciated the film's Bible Belt milieu.) Like any carefully and precisely realized work, The Neon Bible earns your guarded admiration for its technique. If only it earned your empathy as well.

READ MORE
More Gena Rowlands Films
Broken English
Parker Posey gives a lovely, toned-down performance as Nora Wilder, the single, mid-30s Manhattanite at the heart of this romantic comedy.

Marjorie Baumgarten, July 13, 2007

Paris, Je T'Aime
Eighteen short films by an international who’s-who of filmmakers make up this omnibus celebrating the joys and sorrows of love and Paris, organized by neighborhood.

Marrit Ingman, June 22, 2007

More by Steve Davis
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
Edina and Patsy hit the big screen with mixed results

July 22, 2016

Captain Fantastic
Viggo Mortensen and family go off the grid

July 22, 2016

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The Neon Bible, Terence Davis, Gena Rowlands, Jacob Tierney, Diana Scarwid, Denis O'Leary, Leo Burmester

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
This content has not been formatted for this window size.
Please increase the size of your browser window, or revisit this page on a mobile device.
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)