Home (2008) offers a unique view of a family’s collective mental breakdown in the face of change. Similarly, films like John Cassevetes’ A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Saverio Costanzo’s Hungry Hearts (2014), and Christina Choe’s Nancy (2018) explore how individual mental illness can affect an entire family. When one person suffers from paranoia or flies into a psychotic rage, it throws the entire familial balance into chaos.
Children feel threatened by their parents, or, as is the case in Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011), vice versa. Similarly, couples can feel threatened or enraged by their partners, turning otherwise loving relationships into emotional prisons. In any case, these kinds of films usually explore the effects of one individual on an otherwise stable family.
In Ursula Meier’s drama, Home (2008), paranoia and displeasure with the outside world spreads like a virus through a small family living in a remote part of the French countryside. Initially, Marthe (Isabelle Huppert) and Michel (Olivier Gourmet) live in relative comfort and peace with their son, Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein) and two daughters, Marion (Madeleine Bud) and Judith (Adélaïde Leroux). Their unique living situation gives the family an unusual degree of privacy, though it also makes for a rather dull and uneventful existence.
The family lives in a house that sits right beside a long-defunct highway. Every day, Michel walks across the empty road to access the family car and drive to work. The children frequently play out on the street, as there’s no traffic to worry about. However, after 10 years of isolation, construction workers suddenly begin to work on the highway. Within a few days, the incomplete road is up and running. Initially, the family is somewhat excited, albeit nervous about the change. However, as traffic grows, they find their lives completely upended.
With the traffic filling the highway day and night, the family must use a tunnel underneath the road to access the car and reach the outside world. Marion becomes increasingly concerned about their health and safety living in such close proximity to the road. She begins tracking the effects of carbon emissions on the local fauna and air quality. Despite her concerns, the eldest daughter, Judith, continues to sunbathe out on the front lawn, attracting catcalls from some of the drivers.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family, particularly Marthe, grow frustrated with the constant noise of traffic. They start taking measures to soundproof the house, while also attempting to block out harmful emissions. Despite tensions running high, the family refuses to leave their home.
Ursula Meier takes an interesting approach to an altogether bizarre, yet believable story. The tone slowly shifts from a light-hearted, uniquely French drama to a surreal display of paranoia and claustrophobic nihilism. The family’s quirky traits turn into annoying flaws once they find themselves trapped together, unable to cope with the noise, isolation, and health risks.
As always, Isabelle Huppert played her role as the deteriorating matriarch to perfection. We see her as the carefree wife and mother at the beginning of the film, but the mounting tension drives her into a frenzy. Though she is not the only member of the household to succumb to paranoia and delusion, the rest of the family follows her lead closely. Marthe is also the primary reason that the family stays put — she simply refuses to abandon the place that she’s called home for over a decade.
In addition to the excellent performances, there are some interesting themes to extrapolate from Home. Part commentary on modernization and environmental destruction, part family melodrama, it somehow finds the best of both worlds. By the end of the film, you’re left with a genuine sympathy for Marthe’s plight, despite her stubbornness in the face of an untenable situation. In a way, she is taking on the entire world (or at least her little section of it) all by herself. The little decrepit house and plot of land is all that she has in life, but the outside world threatens to take it all away from her for the sake of expediency.
In a way, Home appeals to the isolationist in all of us. At one point or another, we’ve all flirted with the idea of running off to a remote place and setting up shop, escaping from the chaos of the modern world. Marthe and the rest of her family lived that ideal life we all privately crave, only to have it taken away from her. Her ostensibly extreme reaction to society’s encroachment might seem far-fetched, but if put in her shoes, wouldn’t you do the same?
Rating: ★★★★½ out of 5
If you’d like to watch Home (2018), it is currently available to purchase or stream via Amazon right here.
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