REVIEW: “Light of My Life” (2019)

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I’m always drawn to movies that highlight fathers and daughters and explore the dynamics that often define their relationships. You can probably guess why, but movies that do it well really speak to me. Last year it was Debra Granik’s brilliant “Leave No Trace”. This year Casey Affleck’s “Light of My Life” strikes many of the same powerful chords.

Affleck directs, writes, co-produces, and stars in this slow-brewing but intimate survival drama. It uses some of the same elements found in Granik’s film and laces them with the dystopian flavor of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”. It’s a compelling stew, but at its core it’s still a story about a dad named Caleb (Affleck) and his daughter Rag (played by impressive newcomer Anna Pniowsky).

The story takes place a decade after a devastating plague has wiped out almost all of the world’s female population. Included among the casualties is Caleb’s wife and Rag’s mom (played in a handful of flashbacks by Elisabeth Moss). Affleck paints a bleak portrait of a world without women. It’s dark, ugly, and on the brink of total collapse.

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In one scene Caleb explains the crumbling world as being unbalanced. An inquisitive Rags asks “When will it be balanced?” Her father can only respond “When there are more women.” It’s all he knows to say. He’s being honest while trying to offer his daughter a glimmer of hope. At the same time he knows the outlook is grim and there is no guarantee that the world will ever be the same again.

Caleb and Rag live along the outskirts of this shell of civilization. Rag’s hair is kept short and she dresses as a boy in order to keep safe. The reasons why are both obvious and ominous, bringing a heightened level of tension and suspicion to every encounter. Affleck’s fierce development of atmosphere and mood causes us to question the motives and intents of every person they meet.

The setting is undeniably dour, but Affleck’s interests are considerably more intimate. As the movie’s title implies, it’s a story about paternal love, the anxieties of parenting, and growing up in unforgiving circumstances. The film tosses aside practically every modern convention and puts an extraordinary amount of time into its two main characters. Take the opening scene where Caleb lays next to Rag telling her a version of Noah’s Ark. It’s a gutsy long take featuring a static camera locked on Affleck and Pniowsky. It may go a hair too long but it’s still an ambitious character-focused approach.

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Elsewhere we get heart-to-heart conversations about mortality, the state of the world, and the difference between morals and ethics. We even get a lighthearted dinner table scene where Caleb awkwardly attempts to cover everything from racism to…(you know)…’THE talk’ all in one uncomfortable sitting. It’s a tender and welcomed moment of levity that shines a light On the fantastic chemistry between Affleck and Pniowsky.

But then you have the film’s dark side vividly seen in its sketch of a male-dominated society. Aside from being a potent metaphor, Affleck’s grim milieu and its undercurrent of savagery makes for some harrowing sequences. Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw coats his images in blues, whites, and grays while shooting in a way that highlights the emptiness of the landscapes. And when we do get glimpses of approaching men in the distance it can be genuinely frightening.

At the end of Caleb’s Noah’s Ark story Rag challenges her father “You said it would be about the girl, why do you keep talking about the boy? You can’t miss the subtle indictment in light of how male-centered our perspectives can be. And considering this is a movie about a father driven to shield his daughter from aggressive men, you can’t help but wonder if this is Affleck dealing with his past transgressions. It’s hard to say, but the film’s message is forceful, its approach is thoughtful, and its storytelling is raw and unflinching. It’s sure to be too slow for some and too gloomy for others. I fell in with its rhythm and found plenty of heart to light a path through the darkness.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4-5-stars

20 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Light of My Life” (2019)

    • You can’t help but seeing resemblances to The Road. Still it manages to carve out its own identity which really surprised me. It’s available on some streaming platforms so that may make it easier to find.

    • It’s sad because some media headlines took the premise and ran in the wrong direction with it. It’s a shame really. It has so many things to say about society but in the most subtle and effective ways. It can also be very intense and harrowing. It released in theaters and on some streaming platforms at the same time. Hopefully you can check it out.

      • And the funny about this is that it’s not just conservative media that will take this the wrong way but also whiny liberals. I wish I could drop an atomic bomb on both of them and ride that bomb like Major Kong as a big fuck you to both factions.

      • Its funny, in many ways media outlets are exactly the same regardless which side of the political aisle they are on. They often use headlines to promote their ‘cause’ regardless of their accuracy. It’s a shame.

        That said Affleck does have baggage and I can understand some people’s mistrust. But this film offers itself up for some really thought-provoking interpretations which I loved.

  1. Thanks for another good highlight Keith. I try my damndest to not get swept up in the knee-jerk reactions to actors and their public (or in some cases private) transgressions. Casey Affleck honestly seems like a scumbag in real life, but I really think his talent is worth watching. So I’m going back and forth on this one. The thematic content definitely seems like he’s atoning. But that could well be coincidental.

    Lest we forget Mel Gibson did something quite remarkable and came back after all that time with Hacksaw Ridge. That was a great example of a filmmaker in full on mea culpa mode.

    • It’s tricky territory for sure. I too try to steer clear of knee-jerk reactions. I also like to hope people can change and that forgiveness is (thankfully) attainable. Not sure how this movie stands in regards to the past accusations. But I do know it has some truly meaningful things to say. And it does so in an impressively cinematic and surprisingly thoughtful way. I kinda love this movie.

  2. I was also reminded of The Road and Leave No Trace, both amazing movies. Unfortunately I was interrupted 40 mins in, I need to watch this one again, especially after this review! I really like Casey Affleck, he is an underrated actor. AND he directed and wrote this!? Dayuuum, this guy will turn out some amazing movies if he pursues directing seriously.

    Anyhow, time to leave for ‘Once Upon A Time…’!!!! =P Hehe

    I’ll read your review again afterwards and perhaps msg u on twitter. I like chatting in real time about movies, the conversations can be endless. Especially with a movie as long and as ambitious as this. And chatting like that is better than comments on WP I reckon. *shrugs* Time-zones suck tho =[

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