WALK THE LINE: A Belated Movie Review

Since I'm writing a screen play; something I've not done before, I'm suddenly interested in movies and how they're made.  I learned much in watching the 30 pages of Wood's End script come alive over a long weekend at the end of March.  The contribution of so many necessary disciplines was fascinating.  I saw that the one had potential to derail the others and how important balance was for the entire process. 

I watched the movie, "Walk the Line."  I'd seen it when it came out but picked it up again, mainly to watch JW's (J.W. Williams)  performance since he played Jared in our Wood's End film teaser and a drug dealer in Walk the Line.

I don't recall what I thought of the movie initially.  I'm sure I found it entertaining and enjoyed the music.  In this second viewing what didn't I like?  I didn't like the way Johnny Cash's first wife Vivian was portrayed.  I felt the writing was invested in a view point with an obvious position to defend. Perhaps and principally the producer...  Johnny Cash's son by his second wife June Carter Cash, would not have been the person to portray his saintly mother juxtaposed against the witch (that's what we're invited to conclude) Vivian Cash.  Johnny Carter Cash, had a certain responsibility to the record and if he wasn't ready to write an honest account he should have waited because the story itself is dramatic enough.  So... we have black and white and little balance.  This is our first clue that reality has sold out to propaganda.  And I'm just curious.  Where were the rest of the Cash children?  I didn't see their names in the credits.  Obviously they didn't get to weigh in since the writer or writers had an urban legend to raise up from the ash heap of human frailty. Frailty common to us all. 

So here is the rub.  We are invited to believe that Johnny was married to a harping, critical, materialistic woman who didn't really love him.  He took drugs because he was unloved in his difficult childhood and because he married the wrong woman.  There being only one right woman who can save him.  And because June stayed on, despite his being married to another woman; because the chemistry was there and working overtime well...  Truth be told addicts don't and can't love.  June at this point was merely another excuse to do drugs and if the dramatic moment is true... in that powerful scene where Vivian tells June to stay away from her husband and her children; well if that's true then Vivan hit the nail on the head. She wasn't stupid.  I like her spunk, her honesty, her risk taking.  Was this a last futile attempt to force an honesty Johnny Cash was adept at dodging.  Another fact... all addicts are passive aggressive. 

Time and research has taught us something different about addiction and sorry the movie took us back twenty years.   So we move on...  June won't compromise her moral principals and sleep with Johnny.  At this point Johnny isn't a full fledged addict, but character lacking and the seeds of his susceptibility a physical and psychological imperative waiting to happen... Johnny gives in to temptation.  

But it's not his fault.  Really?  He's married to the wrong woman and the woman he loves has just had the moral sense to reject him.  And then, the writer or writers of this script give us the addicts common strategy for deflecting responsibility...  "Elvis takes them." (uppers and downers.)  And so on and so on...   My friend Slona... my Al-anon friend wouldn't be buying it and too bad the writing missed an opportunity to share a truth that Johnny himself probably arrived at eventually. 

Poor Vivian, played by that actress whose name I can't recall from Big Love, is married to a drug addict at a time when addiction wasn't understood.  But she's a fighter.  Loyal and true she hung in there.  Of  coure she is codependent.  Her anger does what all addicts need and manipulate; providing the excuse to do more drugs.  Does she merely stay for the children?  After some years this is probably what she tells herself.  But, in this second viewing I was cheering for Vivian as she chooses health for herself and her children and drives off; striping Johnny of the excuse he's depended on; the scape goat Vivian affords.  Johnny can now face his issues.  Only he doesn't.  He does more drugs.

Vivian chooses sanity.  Johnny is too much in his addiction to choose much of anything.  The viewer has to dig for that truth or they never see it.  If Vivian hadn't left Johnny he might have died.  Her brave act moved him from dead center even as his life spirialled even more out of control.  Her brave act contributed to his getting well... though we never see this.       

The crux of this propaganda gem is that we are invited to hate Viv, love Johnny, and see June as a saint.  One little telling vingette...  With a baby and another on the way Johnny and Viv are about to be evicted and Johnny is evidently oblivious to this reality.  She tearfully tells him she wants to go home to daddy. Now I ask you...  is there a woman out there, threatened with homelessness, who wouldn't consider going home if that was a viable altenative.  I mean really... June went home to her mother when living a similiar soap opera with perhaps only slightly different dynamics in her two failed marriages.  I once ran home to mother with a six month old and stayed for two years.

Vivian wants what most good mothers; what most women want.  Safety for her children; honestly in love; truthful admissions of human frailty and an opportunity to support her man in honesty.  She never gets that chance.  Another woman enters the picture and stays there and then reaps the turn of human endeavor as fate presents the chance for a different outcome.

The next lie is that June did all the work.  Sorry... an addict has to do the work to get well.  No one does it for him or her and somehow Johnny Cash found the strength, with God's help, to face his demons and overcome a life time of bondage.  Personal, indepth work brought him sobriety.  Work that only he, with God's healing, could accomplish. 

There is one true line in the movie that could have been powerful; could have been a teaching moment for every viewer.  But again the writing lets us down deflecting from that all important concept; PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.  Johnny, high and exhausted from the road, where he has been sleeping with a host of fans... which Vivian guesses, but doesn't want to deal with is asked...  "What do you want!"  She shouts back... "I want you Johnny, I want you!" 

Well sorry Vivian you can't have him.  Not even June could have had him at this juncture.  And... June wasn't necessarily a better woman.  Knowing so little of Vivian, since the writing traps her in dishonesty, how could we even guess?  The addiction has Johnny and his whole life and every decision up until then centered on one objective.  Staying high.  So... watching this in hind sight I was sorry that the writing let down all the principal persons; June, Johnny, Vivian. I'd like to know the "real" story. 

The acting was good.  Reese Witherspoon deserved her Oscar. I'm not a fan of most country music but enjoyed that too.  Joaquin is always good. He was totally  brilliant in Gladiator.  But the blatantly disingenuous writing.  Not good. J.W. Williams had a small role.  But judging by the number of people who google "who was the drug dealer in Walk the Line," and end up at my blog reading this review I'd say he has to have made a screen impression.  You can see more of him at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3LHMcv6z-4

It is unfortunate that rain prevented us from finishing the scene where he throws the whiskey bottle into the fire and has a few more lines.  Oh well... such is life.  It was hard enough to keep that fire going.     
I wonder what Rosanne Cash thought of the movie?  I'd really, really like to know.  Call me Rosanne and we'll talk scripts.  And... I'd love to hear one good thing about your Mom because I do admire her... despite the writing.  She came to it in her own time; but she took steps to protect her children from the ravages of addiction which is always abusive. 

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