HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG (2003)

(a “blameless” film review by Timothy J. Verret)

You see, no one is to blame for anything in HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG. Behrani is not to blame for uprooting his family from Iran and taking them to America to pursue the “American Dream” with one of those dreams being owning a home. Kathy is not to blame for wanting her house back that was unfairly stolen from her. The tragedy that befalls all of them is not about blame, either. When one wants something and wants it bad and will do anything to get it, who can be blamed for that? Aren’t we instructed that in America, we should want the “American Dream,” which is defined as “the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved?” The non-fault-finding problems for these characters is THIS “American Dream.” Because if one wants equality of opportunities and to be allowed the highest aspirations and goals achieved therein, someone is bound to get hurt in this pursuit. Who can be blamed for that? Of course, someone will get the short end of the stick and when the “American Dream” is achieved, oh how the mighty (and innocent) will fall!

Maybe that’s how this film gets its title. A house built on sand cannot stand and will fall. A house covered in fog, no one can see clearly, and if the pursuit of this house is for vain reasons, what good is this house really if no one can see it? And, of course, fragile people are houses on sand that fall and surrounded by fog that obscures their vision. No one can see them clearly either. Behrani and Kathy are such people. And, once again, no one can blame these people for sinking in the sand forever and living (and dying) in the fog of their pursuit of the “American Dream.”

I have not read the book of the same title of this film. I hear it’s amazing, and I can only imagine after seeing the film that this is very, very true, because HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG is an amazing story of ordinary, yet highly flawed people living ordinary, highly flawed lives until their dreams blow up in their faces and they wonder, “where did I go wrong?” My answer would be, “You didn’t go wrong at all. You were simply following the ‘American Dream’ standard, and most of the world’s standard for that matter, and that is to want, take, and hold on tight to what can be yours and when you get it, don’t lose it for nothing! Seeking the ‘highest aspirations and goals to be achieved’ will do that to you!”

Ben Kingsley plays Behrani and Jennifer Connelly plays Kathy, and these two actors are spellbinding in HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG. Some of you may know Ben Kingsley from playing Mahatma Gandhi in the 1982 film, GANDHI, which earned him an Oscar for Best Actor that year. Here, Kingsley is commanding while at the same time soft, so strong and so fragile, and this combination makes this Kingsley’s best performance ever. Some people have said I look like actors Woody Harrelson or Richard Jenkins, and I can see that, but in this film, I am almost a splitting image of Kingsley. Don’t believe me? Look!

See what I mean? Now, I don’t particularly think Kingsley is “gorgeous,” but what I do think about Kingsley is that this is one of the finest actors on the planet, and he is hugely mesmerizing and hugely a force of nature! I believe the man could play any part in any play or film and slay it! Jennifer Connelly also won an Oscar for her beautiful performance in Ron Howard’s 2001 film, A BEAUTIFUL MIND. Here, Connelly plays a recovering drug addict, and she just rips all of our hearts out with her struggling and suffering Kathy, a character hell-bent on a hellish self-destructive path.

I would not dare reveal the ending of HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG to you, but what I will say is that I was in total shock at the film’s conclusion. It is gut-wrenching and as close to a Greek tragedy as they come. It was actually very difficult to write this film review, because my hands are still shaking from just seeing the film and I’m a bit dry in the mouth, yet definitely not in the eyes. I cried terribly for these characters that I grew to care very much about and could not blame them for anything. They simply were doing what they were told, i.e., get what you want and die trying. Thanks a lot, “American Dream!”

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