NATURAL ENEMIES -- Avalon 2.
"All men think of killing their families." This is one of the opening lines of "Natural Enemies," and it's repeated, unchallenged, throughout the film.
Terrific. A "Life With Father" for the 1980s.
But if the people and events in "Natural Enemies" represented our times accurately, one would have to acknowledge a point in this action.
It shows a world in which everybody suffers from non-specific depression all the time, and does nothing but discuss it continually in deary psycho-babble.
Mama and Papa and their three children live in a meticulously furnished 18th-century house in Connecticut, bought because they throught the expensive simplicity "could turn us into a family again."
They were mistaken.
Mama, who paints, passes out on the floor from bungled suicide attempts. The children appear for only one quick scene, defined by their careers, which are, respectively, watching televised cartoons, reading comic books and eating junk food.
Papa, who owns and edits a successful, prestigious magazine called The Scientific Man -- "the only sensible magazine that exists in the country," another character informs us -- is so bored that he sees no possible interest in an article by an astronaut on what it's like to be on the moon. "No article can capture the feeling of being alive," he moans.
But he does have one dream left: He would like to murder her and the three children and then kill himself, not because he has so strenuous a feeling as dislike of them, but because "life had no meaning." A friend who was in Auschwitz tries to tell him that compared to being in a concentration camp, his life isn't so bad, but the argument is apparently unconvincing.
Louise Fletcher and Hal Holbrook are to be congratulated on perfectly consistent performances as natural enemies, i.e., husband and wife. They never crack a smile. Nothing lifts their depression, even for a second. When he tries to cheer his last day on earth by hiring five prostitutes to go at him at once, he manages to keep depressed throughout the experience. But no wonder -- the minute the action pauses, the prostitutes start analyzing him among themselves, in psycho-babble.
Jose Ferrer, as the Auschwitz alumnus, and Vivica Lindfors, as a pyschoanalyst and Yale professor, do nothing to lighten the gloom. The function of these characters, also, is to analyze "The problem."
But the successful analysis is something that writer and director Jeff Kanew saves for himself. You'll never guess what it is:
Lack of communication!
It seems that these people never really told each other how they feel. Once they do that, everything will be all right.
The filmgoer, having sat there listening to "We never have arguments -- maybe that's what's wrong . . . I wish I could rewrite my life . . . We're already dead . . . We live in the same house, but basically we're strangers . . . You've never allowed yourself to cry out for help . . . You think we really make a difference?" and so on, will hardly agree.