SIX FEET UNDER (Alan Ball, 2001-2005)

It’s better than the vast majority of films released since 2000. That’s the perfect way to begin this review. Never have I seen characters so raw, so authentic, and so identifiably put onto celluloid. Every one of these characters become apart of you throughout every episode, that once you arrive to the last ten minutes, holding tears back is something almost impossible to do. But what makes it more powerful is that the series as a whole, also questions life and death; and how, really, they are no different. We die; it’s a matter of life; but we shouldn’t be afraid. We can mourn for the ones we love, yes, but when it comes to ourselves we must learn to face that terrifying destination. That is why “Six Feet Under” is so important to me; it’s one of the few works in any art form to actually change my life and my feelings toward both life, death, and existence. It actually helped me understand what many others are almost afraid to even think, let alone talk, about.

When rewatching the entire series again, I decided to focus on what makes the Fisher family connect so well with the viewer. And by the first episode, I realized exactly why. The show never sugarcoats them. They are never seen as flaccid Hollywood stereotypes, or characters whose actions only exist to carry on the plot. No. They are shown as completely human. They have times where they act like that stranger you see walking down the street, and at other times where they are full of smiles and having a good time. But they also have heartache, only the heartache comes from situations filled with immense humanity. What makes it all the more special is how these situations mainly come from that person’s mind instead of what goes on in the occurrence of others around them. That’s how humans are, and the show respects that. And what makes it all the more beautiful is that the show doesn’t seem to use that for benefit, or even misfortune. It’s not seeming to be using anything at all. It’s only showing this family, and the few others that have effected them, with all the raw, relatable details. That’s why the viewer connects so easily.

The show begins with the death of one of the Fisher clan. The father, Nathaniel Fisher (Richard Jenkins), is the owner of Fisher and Sons, a family run funeral home. It’s around Christmas time when Nathaniel is killed in a car collision with a bus. This sudden moment impacts the family strongly, both emotionally for themselves, and financially with the funeral home being left behind. Youngest son David (Michael C. Hall) tackles on taking care of the business, with the help of older brother Nate (Peter Krause). Both David and Nate have struggles with both their personal lives and with one another. David, a closeted homosexual, has a hard time facing his sexuality and his relationship with his police officer boyfriend Keith (Mathew St. Patrick); while Nate works out a relationship with Brenda (Rachel Griffiths), a woman he met on a plane, minutes prior to discovering the bad news of his father.

Brenda is a twisted woman, with a psychotic brother (Jeremy Sisto) and parents (Joanna Cassidy and Robert Foxworth) who seem ready to attack Nate with their manipulative words, and dishonest facade of nobility. Most of the time, but not always, Nate and Brenda are thrown into these heartbreaking moments in which they struggle to get pass the problems of others in order to focus on their own. These scenes are somber and devastating, and hold a major emotional punch that generates many powerful moments throughout the series.

The youngest of the Fisher family is Claire (Lauren Ambrose), a confused young woman whose relationships with her family seem aloof, yet ironically tight as well, and always, bluntly honest. She’s not an honest person, at least not with herself, but Claire’s behavior is a marvel to watch as she portrays a teen aimed to be blunt, yet scared to confront what she is being snappy about in the first place. She’s almost an observer, who only finds ways in and out of the lives of her siblings and mother, and what makes it all the more devestating is she realizes she is approaching the drastic desicions of actually growing up and moving on with her life. Scenes early on in the series involving a relationship Claire has with stoner / criminal Gabe (Eric Balfour) hold weight through their calm subtlety, while scenes late in the series in which Claire becomes emotionally crumbled (one notable involves a breakdown over U.S. Troops) are aggressively strong, and show how much change Claire goes through from being a confused teenage girl to a fully adult woman.

The wife Nathaniel left behind is mother Ruth (Frances Conroy); only Ruth isn’t the kind of mom you see in typical film or television. She is shown as fragile and shaky, yet stubborn, and Ruth is easily the warm beating heart of the series. Watching as she cares for her children, the funeral home, and with opening herself up to other men, you immediately fall in love with the woman and you get swept up as she tries her best to be here for her family for however long she finds it necessary. Moments in the show, like Ruth’s realization of her son’s homosexuality, are completely realistic, and have a bold, sometimes funny, and completely genuine impact.

Another character that the series focuses on is Fisher and Sons’ talented mortician Federico Diaz (Freddy Rodriguez) and his instability with working for the Fisher boys as well as taking care of his wife Vanessa (Justina Machado), and his young children. These aren’t the only problems Rico faces, there are many more as the series goes on, as Rico progresses, too, into a wholly different and grim person. For example, a standout scene at the start of the series involves Rico coming home and sitting next to his young daughter, watching TV. It’s a subtle and beautiful moment, and completely real. And when you watch him later in the series as he tries his best to backstab the Fisher boys, you begin to see the layers thin away and slowly, but surely, you begin to see Rico’s real side; and yet no matter how much you hate the character, you grow to understand him.

All the character throughout the series are complex, and what helps it become all the more fantastic is that the show has a major underbelly of dark humor running through its veins. The drama and comedy blend, not clash, and that is the brilliance of it. You can cry at times, you can laugh at times (sometimes even both) and it never once comes off as forced or heavy-handed. What also makes these moments so much more enticing is that a lot of the humor branches from the character’s realistic actions. None of the humor comes randomly, it’s all firmly placed in the drama. And just like the drama, the comedy feels so real that many of the humorous moments can also be related to.

The most infamous aspect of the series is easily the series finale. And when the final ten minutes of that finale arrive, it becomes clear how completely powerful and invigorating “Six Feet Under” is as a whole. With the emotionally chilling tune from Sia called “Breathe Me” whispering over the scenes, a final line delivered with an intensity rarely achieved in film, and some of the most astonishing uses of editing and cinematography used to striking heights in order to create a soaring marriage of the tragic and the sublime. If you follow the Fisher family from the beginning, it’s almost impossible to hold back the tears. It is honestly, one of the most compelling and beautiful, powerful, heartbreaking scenes ever put together. It will provoke you to think on the characters. On love. On hate. On memory. On life. On death. On existence. All of which trigger back to yourself….

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~ by jerkwoddjh on November 5, 2009.

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