House of Cards
1993 Directed by Michael Lessac. Starring Kathleen Turner, Tommy Lee Jones, Asha Menina, Shiloh Strong, Esther Rolle, Park Overall.
REVIEWED By Robert Faires, Fri., July 30, 1993
Ways of speaking without words, waysof seeing beyond what we typically perceive. This is what writer-director Michael Lessac explores in this fable, the story of Sally, a girl who, after the death of her father, retreats into herself so deeply that she stops talking, stops interacting with the everyday world, and communicates only through extraordinary behavior, such as building an intricate house of cards, several feet high, with a long, winding ramp to its zenith. Lessac provides enough of Sally's perspective for us to comprehend her withdrawal and its mythic underpinnings. But we spend most of the film in this world with Sally's mother, Ruth (Turner), watching her increasingly desperate efforts to regain contact with her child. Ruth allows Sally to be treated by Beerlander (Jones), a psychologist who works with children, some of whom are autistic or have extra-normal skills. Jones' mission is a painful one, to bring his amazing charges into the “real” world, even if it means sacrificing their unique abilities. Turner and Jones dive fathoms deep into their characters, reaching an uncommon level of hurt, grief, and prolonged frustration and conveying it feelingly. The film takes great pains to articulate honestly the pain and ambiguity in Ruth's quest. But it also manages to work on a dazzling poetic level in which words are not necessary: a screen-size closeup of a baseball turning over, the camera racing along the gigantic seams so that it feels as if we're flying through a canyon; a tour of a computer-generated replica of Sally's card palace, through which we swoop, soar, and glide; a conversation among Ruth and two children who speak only in prime numbers. These moments carry a more profound sense of wonder than any recent Hollywood blockbuster. House does wear its mysticism on its sleeve, trading in Mayan myths and shared dreaming, and its end skirts dangerously near the pat, but sometimes a story can be contrived and its characters remain true. So it is here. Lessac and his company have created and sustained such honest, yearning individuals that when the story reaches its wholly predictable and sentimental finale, its people are not diminished at all. Their pain and love are no less real and they no less worthy of our affection.