Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 


Successful children's author and illustrator Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges) and his wife Marion (Kim Basinger) live with their young daughter Ruth (Elle Fanning) in the upmarket East Hampton beach community. Ted takes on a 16 year old intern and would be writer Eddie (Jon Foster) to do odd jobs. But with the Cole marriage in shambles in the wake of a tragic accident that killed their two teenage sons, Eddie is drawn into a more complex role. Both Ted and Marion see one of their sons in Eddie, but they respond very differently. In the end, Eddie becomes the unwitting catalyst in the transformation of their lives.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The Cider House Rules, The Hotel New Hampshire and The World According to Garp are all John Irving novels adapted for the screen, and The Door in the Floor echoes with Irving's atmospherics, his sense of place juxtaposed with character. In the novel, the story is told by Eddie, an old lover of Ruth's mother, well after Ruth herself has married. The film dispenses with that structure and tells the story in a linear fashion from just before Eddie walks into the Cole family's life.

This change of perspective means we don't know some of the story elements until the end; it also means there is a greater emphasis on the character of Ted than on Ruth or her mother. But Eddie is still the catalyst and it's interesting how this way of telling the story impacts on its elements.

Without giving away those revelations that belong to the filmmaker and his audience (those who haven't read the book, especially), I can only skirt around some of these. For example, Ted confesses to Eddie towards the end of the film that he, Eddie, was hired because he reminded Ted of one of his late sons. He adds: "You were my gift to Marion." This line resonates enormously because we have seen Marion seduce Eddie - several times. But the manner of her seduction is so unpredatory, so caring and attentive as to be mistaken for a sort of tender instruction. If this gets you into uncomfortable territory, let me assure you there are no incestuous overtones in the film. It's all my conjecture, fired by that remark.

The rich details of the story that are laid out in the novel are hinted at with Ted's interest in drawing - either simplistic figures for his books, or less simplistic naked women. He gradually undresses them, and Marion knows the phases he goes through, ending with degradation. In the film this is almost an aside, albeit a pointed one.

Jeff Bridges is a crumpled writer, a nicely judged character with ego hanging out like untucked shirt tails, and Kim Basinger is wonderfully nuanced as Marion, delivering a surprise exit that adds punch to the film's final act (unlike in the book).

Jon Foster's pivotal role as Eddie is underplayed, much to his credit, and Tod Williams' direction is both focused and restrained. He must have seen the film in his head even as he worked on the adaptation. A muted film, its emotions played internally, and a satisfying one.

Review by Louise Keller:
A gripping and deeply moving film about life, loss and love, The Door in the Floor is a haunting story about characters that learn about themselves when they least expect it. Writer/director Tod Williams takes hard-to-handle subjects and deals with them with haunting grace and sensitivity. It's a film bristling with real emotions and the performances from Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger are extraordinary.

The love between husband and wife shrivels into bitterness and resentment following the death of their two sons. The couple know each other's weaknesses only too well and they cope in different ways. He drinks and seduces women; she has turned to stone emotionally. Life goes on... until a stranger becomes the catalyst for change.

Adaptations usually attempt to tell as much of a novel's story as possible, but in this case, Williams concentrates on the first third of John Irving's book, titled A Widow For One Year. The writing is honest and we feel as though we know the characters.

Bridges' children's writer Ted seems like a no-nonsense sort of guy. He looks every bit the eccentric artist, thinking nothing of walking around naked and revealing his complicated life-style to Jon Foster's impressionable student Eddie. Eddie is gauche and inexperienced; little does he know that Ted is simply looking for a driver, a convenience that allows his façade of a life to continue, unhindered. He really has no interest in sharpening the young intern's writing skills. Basinger's Marion is living two lives. Now, she is like a beautiful painting, looking out at the world, but no-one can touch her. Her other life lies in the past, which she lives through the dozens of framed photographs hanging in the corridor. This life, when her beloved boys were alive, is far more real than even the waves that crash on the beach outside. She is happy to share these days with her pretty-as-a-doll four year old Ruth, portrayed by angelic-faced Elle Fanning, younger sister of Dakota, and equally talented. When she allows Eddie to fulfil his sexual fantasies with her, it is as if she is bestowing a gift on him and nothing more. Unlike Ted's self-gratifying seduction routines with Mimi Rogers' wealthy artist model, which go from flattery to degradation.

The film's climax comes unexpectedly, when Eddie is forced to make a steep learning curve for his writing skills. It's as though time stands still as Eddie rids himself of everything superfluous as he scribbles on scraps of notepaper in a framing shop.

As Ted says, it is the specific details that make all the difference to a story - the smell, the type of shoes, the colour of a buttoned cardigan. And so it is with all the details that make this film a powerful and emotionally shattering revelation. The title refers to a children's book, which tells about a place too horrifying to even talk about. Symbolically, the door in the floor leads to the abyss of our soul, where reality is raw and the pulse of life is too painful to imagine.

Email this article

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0


CAST: Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger, Jon Foster, Elle Fanning, Larry Pine, John Rothman, Harvey Loomis, Bijou Phillips, Mimi Rogers

PRODUCER: Anne Carey, Michael Corrente, Ted Hope

DIRECTOR: Tod Williams

SCRIPT: Tod Williams (novel by John Irving)


EDITOR: Affonso Goncalves

MUSIC: Marcel Zarvos


OTHER: Jeff Bridges (illustrator)

RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes



© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020