(2001) dir. Scott McGehee, David Siegel
The Deep End is modern noir from local writing, directing, and producing team, Scott McGehee and David Siegel, whose earlier film, Suture (1993), was always one of those films that I meant to get around to seeing, but never did.
The Deep End had a lot of solid buzz, and in some ways it lives up to it. Tilda Swinton is quite strong as the blackmailed “soccer mom”. And the Lake Tahoe setting proves both beautiful and interesting.
The film is based on Elizabeth Holding’s novel The Blank Wall originally published in the 1940’s, transposing the narrative onto contemporary times. It’s an curious effect. This films plumbs the depths of both noir and melodrama, genres whose heydeys coincided with the period in which the book was originially written. Both genres often operate as subversive discourses on traditional middle-American values, and so in transposing such themes onto contemporary times offers an interesting contrast between societal values of each period.
I suppose that this is one of the problems for modern noir. Since classic noir is such a product of its time and since its discourse centers on a criticism of its period, modern noir seems to need a unifying focus for its social criticism. But more often than not, modern noir is far more focussed on the surface of the narratives and not as much in social criticism.
Interestingly, I think that The Deep End seems to work that angle a little more than the typical modern noir. But the happy nuclear family has been largely de-mythologized in recent times. The predicament of isolation that is suffered by Swinton’s character in this film would have been more powerful in the context of WWII, possibly (maybe it could be argued that the housewife of the American 1940’s was more isolated in general — but maybe that is missing the point of this character). But maybe it is just the handling of the material and not inherent to the transposition.
The son’s secret homosexuality is another interpretive adaptation. As is his gender and age, for that matter. I guess that it does add a potential level of repression to the tale. Ultimately it is the mother’s tale, though, and maybe looking at it through the melodrama lens rather than the noir lens might offer a different interpretation.