NED RIFLE is an intellectually stimulating and compassionate satire, the third and final chapter of Hal Hartley's tragicomic epic which began with HENRY FOOL (1998) and continued with FAY GRIM (2007). At once a saga concerning the Grim family of Woodside Queens and how their lives are turned upside down by the arrival of the self-proclaimed genius, Henry Fool, the trilogy is also an illustration of America's grappling with ideas, art, politics, and religion over the course of twenty years. In this swiftly paced and expansive conclusion, Henry and Fay's son, Ned, sets out to find and kill his father for destroying his mother's life. But his aims are frustrated by the troublesome, sexy, and hilarious Susan, whose connection to Henry predates even his arrival in the lives of the Grim family. A funny, sad, and sexy adventure.
- Prize of the Ecumenical Jury - Berlin IFF
- Liam Aiken
- Martin Donovan
- Aubrey Plaza
- Parker Posey
- Thomas Jay Ryan
- James Urbaniak
- Hal Hartley
- Vladimir Subotic
- Kyle Gilman
- Hal Hartley
When I wrote and shot HENRY FOOL in 1996 I often joked with my associates that it was a chapter in some huge on-going adventure about this collection of white-trash losers myself and the actors had come to love. I joked about it one time too many before my actor friends started to hold me to it.
Privately, I began to envision something like Lindsay Anderson's generation long film cycle—If (1968), OH LUCKY MAN (1973), and BRITANNIA HOSPITAL (1982)—three different kinds of films about different kinds of things which shared a character, Travis, played by Malcolm McDowell, and a sensibility (Anderson's) responding to what was happening around it. Similarly, I didn't want to just continue the story of the Grim family and their friend Henry but to use this family and Henry—somehow—to reflect what was going on in the world around me as that world, its trends, its changing priorities, changed. So by 2001, when I was writing FAY GRIM, living under an entirely reinvented American-style cold war type of paranoia, the most obvious thing for me was to see what this well intentioned but slovenly bunch of Americans would get up to if they got caught in the maw of international relations and espionage. For me, at that time, that seemed like realistic kitchen-sink drama.
And my first impulse, once I admitted I could write more stories about this family, was to focus on Fay. Parker Posey had brought so much more dimension to what I had written in HENRY FOOL that I had ideas for countless stories. But I knew if I undertook a “part two” there was no way not to make a “part three”. (I'm a totally old fashioned classicist in these things—prime numbers, symmetry…. It never ends…) So, after a good deal of Fay Grim was written, but before I had set out to raise money, I took 16-year-old Liam Aiken out to lunch to see what his plans for his life were. He was seven when we made HENRY FOOL and went on to be a fairly busy child actor. But I didn't know what the young man would set his sights on becoming.
About the characters:
Henry is the prince of misrule, the lovable but messy life principle or something. But he's also a slob, self-obsessed, an opportunist, a sloppy thinker with an easily faked flair for invective—masturbatory. And, strangely, honest—he has pangs of conscience that always cause him to do something decent that gets him into much deeper trouble.
What breaks my heart is that Susan—the young woman who loves Henry—is so much more formidable a soul and so much more disciplined an intellect. (I agree with everything she says in this story.) But how can she be so STUCK on this man, Henry Fool?!!! I've never written a character whose hurt—and its consequences—I couldn’t imagine. This time I managed to do so but didn’t realize it until I was shooting and editing the film. And that is probably because Aubrey Plaza, like Parker in Henry Fool, brought this whole new dimension to the character I myself could not have written.
Portraying a suicide was sad and—this is too complicated for our current purposes—unsatisfying. I want to make more stories about this girl Susan. I want to see her live. I want to hear what she thinks about stuff. I’ve never written a movie into an ending that is aesthetically right and so emotionally defeating.
Is that Tragedy?
Ned sees his dad as a solipsistic black hole that has managed to drag his mom into near nothingness. Now this girl Susan has been brought to death. We've been cheated! I've cheated us!
But Ned's faith—his particular Christian sensibility (not one I share)—comes to his rescue after he has gone the “whole nine yards”—gone as far as to pull the trigger—to shoot his father—and fail. There was a “miracle”. This problematic girl, Susan, interrupts his evil designs and he has to accept it as divine intervention. This “slut” has kept him from mortal sin.
It's not my way of dealing with life, but I respect the exercise of conscience where I find it. So, though I think Ned’s a righteous asshole at the start, I recognize that he's also naïve and admire his efforts towards the end to try to keep harm at bay.
He fails, of course.
But he owns it. And that's promising.
Still, Susan's dead. And that sucks.
- POSSIBLE FILMS
A unique universe of humor, precision, drama and consciousness.
On the margins, things are always more interesting.
Hal Hartley (born 1959) is an American film director, screenwriter, producer and composer who became a key figure in the American independent film movement of the 1980s and '90s. He is best known for his films TRUST, AMATEUR, SIMPLE MEN and HENRY FOOL, which are notable for deadpan humour and offbeat characters quoting philosophical dialogue. He has won awards at Cannes and Sundance, and staged theater and opera on occasion. He runs his company, Possible Films, from his base in New York City. His most recent releases have been: MY AMERICA and MEANWHILE.