The Glass Castle
He fed them dreams when they actually hungered for food and a normal life. – An analytic review of The Glass Castle.
The film, “The Glass Castle” is a cinematization of a former New York City Gossip Columnist’s famous memoir. Jeannette Walls is the main lead of the story played by Brie Larson who amazingly shows the story of her life through the lens of this movie. Let us begin looking at this from the very beginning. The first scene we see is Jeannette is with her boyfriend, David and another couple in a restaurant in NYC. Here we see a very normal conversation where Jeannette discusses her parents over dinner. We do not suspect anything but, when Jeannette asks for her leftover food to be packed for it to be taken home, we sense some tension. She not only asks her own leftover food to be packed but the leftover food from the girl sitting beside her. This is very shocking for everyone at the table and David tries to cover it up saying Jeannette is joking only for her to deny it. This makes a normal viewer question. Who can ask for leftovers from another person’s plate to be packed? This is not normal behavior for all but, those that have lived in hunger understand this completely. Seeing food go to waste is a trigger for them as it reminds of their endless days of hunger due to poverty. This little detail is easy to miss if one has never experienced hunger around them.
Poverty is not an alien concept for Indians. We are a poor nation with some rich people living in it. But, to see American poverty being exposed like it has been in this film is very moving. The Glass Castle narrates the life of a man who only had dreams and never had the guts to work on it to make them come true. The performance by Woody Harrelson is commendable and watching him act as the erratic father Rex is a treat to sore eyes. You can hate his parenting techniques but cannot ignore the fact that this man was smart. Rex is a product of a messed-up cycle. He was born and raised in neglect. He tried his best to try for his children but more or less neglected their needs for his idea of the perfect dream. His dream is not the American Dream but a step ahead. He wants to build a sustainable glass castle when he has the money only for senseless mumbo-jumbo.
There is a saying that Dreams don’t work unless you do and it is very true to this film. Rex always talked about his castle but never really saved any money even for a stable home, let alone a castle made of glass. He drank and smoked away any money he ever saw. We see this family hitchhiking from one town to another living in adverse conditions, no roof on their head, no water or electricity in the abandoned houses they took shelter in, no formal education and no stable income. This is a family of 6 with 2 parents and 4 children. They have more children than dollars in their pocket for a full meal for at least one of their children.
What the film was able to show us was neglected parenting. This was transferred from Rex and Rose onto their children. They were neglected as children which is possibly why they neglected their children for their own dreamy world. Rex, the son of his very wise mother Erma was sexually assaulted by her as a child. He wrote about living his life with her as ‘living in shit’ but he did not do much better for his own children. Rose was an expressionist and a painter who spent her time living and dreaming the same dreams that Rex dreamed because she had none of her own. Rex appreciated her in a way that Rose’s mother should have. Both Rex and Rose had failed examples of parents and that is what caused their failure as parents. Jeannette is making her own food at age 6 or 7 because Rose is too busy making “a painting that will last a lifetime instead of (feeding her hungry child) food that will only last her an hour” which leads to Jeannette burning her body badly which is a pretty traumatic event for a child. She is led on to believe her scars are demonic. The problem is not with dreams but that you can only have dreams when you have checked the list of other necessities that help you fulfil your dreams. This family never had that.
Rex was so fixated up on the idea of making his Glass Castle that he could never see the dump his life was. We see how the children are aging up and drifting apart from him because they have started seeing sense. We see how unethical Rex’s parenting choices are and we begin to loathe him when he tries to drown Jeannette to teach her how to swim. We are shown Jeannette and her siblings’ childhood in flashbacks where we can see the life Rex chose to give them was very rugged. He was of the opinion that you can never learn to swim if you are never drowning. The idea is problematic because which parent would want their child to learn to live successfully from first living a rustic life?
The film at its climax tried hard to suddenly show us that Jeannette had realized how hard her father had tried to be a good parent but as the audience it is hard to overlook how terribly he failed as a parent. Jeannette abandons her newly married life and goes back to her parents’ house to reconnect with his dying father when she starts to see the good things her father did for her. But, even in that, all the audience can remember is the bad because clearly, the bad outweighs the good. This enforces the concept of family sticking together through thick and thin because blood is thicker than water which in its entirety could be confusing to the American household but sticks well when we look at it through the Indian lens.
Overall, this movie is filled with a grotesque portrayal of poverty which ends up with them finally being able to socially ascent. The parents were born in poverty and chose to die or live that way but the children stuck around one another while socially advancing. We experience familial sentiments ooze out of the ending of the movie when we see the entire family talk about Rex and only remember the funny things he did and the film closes on a teary eyed Jeannette who is reminiscing about her fathers odd choices.
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.