I watched a very bizarre, british movie yesterday in the Phoenix Cinema; Black Pond. This is a very strange movie and I’m not sure explaining it properly is possible, but here’s my go at it.
The Black Pond is a black comedy drama telling the story of of the conflicted family Thompson. Sophie and Tom are husband and wife, but their marriage is stagnant. Their two daughters, Katie and Jess, have moved out and are living in a flat in London with their friend Tim, who is awkwardly in love with the both of them. And it is also the story of Blake, a strange and emotional man.
Sometimes Black Pond is unsettling, and in a few sequences, nightmarish. At other times it’s awkwardly intimate, sometimes touching and beautiful. Sometimes it feels very familiar, and sometimes it’s weirdly funny. The pictures are beautiful and most of the time, rich with colour, always enhancing the atmosphere of the movie.
In between the story of these few peculiar days in the lives of the Thompson family and Tim, we are shown “interviews” conducted with each of them, supposedly a good while after the events of the movie happened, as well as a few clips of Tim seeing a horrible theraupist who is really just out to make fun of him. During the interviews, the characters are talking about their thoughts about what happened in these few days, as well as what happened afterwards. This creates a very strange feeling. The contrast of having the characters talk directly to you in the interview-bits versus watching the story sequences, further enhances the surreal feel of the movie. And because of the interview bits you are told very early what is going to happen at the end:
Blake dies by the Thompson family’s dinner table, and the Thompson family bury him in the woods at Blake’s wish. They are then suspected for murder and the media blows up the case, finalising the already begun destruction of the family.
There is no mystery, no surprises. You know everything that’s going to happen before it happens.
The story starts when Tom, the dad, looses the family dog Boy when out for a walk. While looking for Boy, he meets Blake, and the two end up sitting and talking by a local little beauty spot called the black pond. In an interview sequence at this point, Tom tells us there was something strange about Blake, as if he lacked the restraints people have towards strangers; “his boundaries were very porous.” And indeed, Blake is always shown standing or sitting very close to the rest of the characters even though he has just been introduced to their lives.
Black Pond - Tom meets Blake from Black Pond film on Vimeo.
Blake tells Tom the story of the wife of a judge who disappeared in winter, when the pond was frozen over. A year later, as the judge walked by the black pond again, the entire pond was again frozen over, except for one spot. That was his wife, telling him she’d fallen trough the ice and drowned. Tom invites Blake over for tea. The glee Blake expresses over this is both endearing and pitiful.
Tom and Sophie are fairly wealthy; they have a big house and a swimming pool and a tennis court. They are both shown as proper and well groomed, suppressing and hiding the problems in their marriage. They can’t talk to each other without ending up with an argument. Blake, in contrast, is a short and somewhat chubby fellow with a scruffy beard and sad eyes. He is intensely curious and openly emotional, and very, very lonely, and so he appreciates the contact with Tom and Sophie immensely. He ends up staying for dinner, then he and Tom play tennis and get drunk, and then they have a swim in the pool. It is then dark outside, and Blake stays the night because he’s too afraid of the dark to go home. The scene where Tom asks his wife Sophie if Blake can stay is so reminiscent of a child asking if he can have a sleep-over. “See, I told you she’d say yes.”
They take Boy home, and call the daughters so that they can come home to bury the dog. They bring their flatmate Tim, and Blake stays for the burial as well.
They dig a hole in the garden, but as the dog has been laid to rest, Tom suddenly exclaims that it is wrong, that Boy should be buried in the woods, where he was happiest and the most free. The rest of the family is quiet, but Blake, wide-eyed, says “I think that’s a lovely idea.”
So they bury Boy in the woods. The entire Thompson family, Tim and Blake, all dressed in up in stiff, black burial clothes. The Thompsons then return to their home, Blake to his.
Life in the Thompson family then keeps falling apart, until they are gathered around the dinner table that evening, and Blake shows up at the door, wearing a brown suit. The audience knows what is happening now, we’ve been told, and we’ve seen Blake taking pills, so when he says he’ll be gone in five minutes, we understand, but the Thompsons thinks he’s simply leaving in five minutes. Once again, Blake tells the story of the woman who fell trough the ice, and we understand that it is his own wife he is talking about. He says he believes Boy was his wife, come back to him. He asks that they bury him in the woods with Boy, because he does not want to be lonely.
The movie ends with the Thompson family burying Blake in the woods as he requested. We know what happens with the family after that because of the interview sequences; Tom and Sophie get divorced, Tim moves away from the sister and starts seeing a theraupist, who brings the case to the media, and the Thompson family is investigated for murder.
I really liked this movie and I strongly recommend watching it. It was very different from the linear sort of movie we usually see, and yet managed to not be confusing, probably because of the contrast in the interview parts and the story parts. It was easy to keep the two apart. I believe part of the reason this movie worked so well is because we are told what’s going to happen from the start. It then no longer is about the twists in the plot and the actions of the characters, but rather about why the characters act as they do.