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Diane

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I don't start new threads here often, but I'm very curious to know if anyone has seen Kent Jones' "Diane." I had heard the film has a strong lead performance from Mary Kay Place, but until seeing "Diane" last night, I hadn't known how prominent a role religion plays in the story. I was pleasantly surprised, though the expressions of faith are sometimes hypocritical (just like real life!).

I'd like to know to what extent others here found the depiction of faith to be positive, if at all. 


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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For the most part, I thought the portrayal of religion was neither positive nor negative, just one integral part of Diane's life as she cares for her cousin, son, volunteers her time, etc. The one exception would have been the dinner with her son and daughter-in-law, but I think that scene was more critical of the born again proselytizing, not of religion per se.

I was reminded of Bergman, especially toward the end during some of the dream sequences, not just in the framing and lighting choices which seemed reminiscent of The Silence and Cries and Whispers, but also in the themes of aging, regret, and past mistakes as seen through the perspective of one's religious beliefs.


"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Yes, agreed all around. I appreciate the (few) films I see where religion is just part of daily life - casual expression of "the Lord will take care of her," etc. I suppose that can be a platitude, but it feels meaningful in the context of Diane, where people are in the hospital or otherwise suffering or just getting by. The film focuses on older characters - in itself quite unusual (and admirable - that audience is underserved). 

It's easy to let such talk pass by, and had it not been raised several times, I might not have made a big deal of it. But it comes up several times throughout the film, and I found myself wondering about Jones' religious background (if any). I'm tempted to assume Jones was raised Catholic because he so often has interviewed Scorsese and has made Hitchcock/Truffaut, based on interviews in which Truffaut directly asks Hitch about his religious background. But I've not been able to confirm anything about Jones' own thinking on faith. I suppose such knowledge isn't essential to understanding Diane, but the movie made me want to understand better where the filmmaker might be coming from on the subject.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Just watched this last night, and when I wrote a few brief thoughts on Twitter, Christian prompted me to check out this thread. I agree that the film is more interested in simply depicting religious beliefs as part of Diane's life and story, and less interested in critiquing those beliefs or making sweeping judgments about Christianity, per se. The dinner between Diane and her son and daughter-in-law felt so real to me, because I *know* people like that, on all accounts (both hardcore Pentecostal types and quietly Catholic types). When Diane says that she already has a church and she's already saved, and the evangelicals don't believe here, well...I've pastored people with just that same belief, who have hosted such events or dinners to try to spring the Gospel on their unsuspecting Catholic friends or family. So seeing it on screen made me think Jones is deeply aware of such subcultures and practices on some level.

I think Diane's actions and postures towards others—she is going from place to place and simply being with hurting people—felt incredibly Christlike for me, although I'm increasingly hesitant to call characters "Christ figures" these days (my PhD research and the plethora of really bad interpretations of films by biblical scholars and theologians who see Christ figures everywhere has left me a bit cynical on the subject, I suppose). But the way Mary Kay Place portrays Diane with such sympathy and tiredness is remarkable, and I found myself loving her, if that even makes sense. I was grieved when her cousin died, and openly wept when her best friend died. All the while she carries these burdens with a silent resilience. It's a remarkable performance.

My only quibble with the film, one which keeps it at about a 7/10 instead of a 9/10 for me, is the conspicuous performance from Jake Lacy, who plays Brian, Diane's son. It's like he's from a totally different film, and whatever he's doing always felt like he was *always acting* to me, especially when every other performance feels so sincere and subdued. I guess that could be intentional on Jones and Lacy's part, that a drug addict-turned-Jesus freak should always feel like a performative act or hypocrisy (come to think of it, I do know real people like this too, where every time they speak it's like they're giving a performance and trying to convince you that they're sincere), but in the moment of watching, it always took me out of the filmic experience.

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I have been scanning interviews to see if Jones comments on religion/Christianity in the film and it does not seem to come up. He does cast the film as drawing on his experiences in this town, and notes that Diane in part draws on his own mother. I get the sense that Christianity and these little bits of language are just part of the package, in the sense that some of these people just have a general cultural Christian background and some of them have conversion experiences (like casually one mentioned and Brian's dramatic turn). There is a conversation in the last third of the film about how alcoholics sometimes dry out and become preachy Christians, trading one manic experience for the other. This turns out to be the case for Brian.

Given this hollowed-out presence of Christian language and experience in the script, Diane has nowhere of consequence to turn in her search for absolution. I am guessing that this is Jones' intent. We are haunted people. Things have not turned out like we thought. We make choices we just can't undo and these choices define us until the last moments of our lives. The religious stuff is just a shell game.

A few spoilers here... 

Her son does give her some room to breathe in his confession that his hatred of her was just a learned reflex. He was just kind of going along with how he thought he was supposed to respond to her. It may be that years of addiction have helped him understand how easy it is to ditch family for fleeting pleasure, and how that in the moment something feel less like a choice than it does just going along with something inevitable. I do love the way Jones lets the details of Diane story unfold so slowly as it gives us time to see her - rather than the specifics of her transgression. But it is a bit hard to tell when or how Brian's mind about this changes, other than that he was out in the woods with a beer and he wanted to get this off his chest. His character is just not as well developed as Diane's.

Back from spoiler land...

There is so much Rohmer in Jones' moral play and conversation. I agree with Joel that the scene with Brian and his wife fell flat. I am not sure what Jones could have done here to make this element of the story line happen more organically. He sure does nail the script here though... that "I am doing this because I love you" language touches on the weakest, most violent element of Evangelical theology. 

The sense of time here is so masterful - which we also get in Rohmer. Clearly Jones has been thinking about this story, and the whole scope of the film, for a long time. The edit taking us to the final scene of the film is perfectly done. Scattering unpredictable bits of time between scenes shifts Diane's story to a whole level of transcendence I was not at all expecting. I still can't shake the blend of audio, edit, perspective, and raw psychological energy in the final sequence. Can we take an entire life of regret and wondering and failure and transmute it into seconds of cinematic thought? I guess so.

Edited by M. Leary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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