3 Stars — Thought Provoking
Are we a carbon copy of our parents? Are we destined to fall prey to the same demons or have similar dispositions or to seek the same dreams? Are we only the product of our family’s social, spiritual and emotional conditioning? Being Flynn is based on a true story that traces a son’s experience with his father’s descent into addiction and his own fight to overcome the temptation and conditioning to do the same.
In his 20s, Nick Flynn (Paul Dano) is aimlessly wandering through life with little direction or ambition other than to be a writer. Why a writer? No real reason other than his father, Jonathan Flynn (Robert De Niro), who had left his mother and him when he was a child and hasn’t been seen in years, was locked in his memory from childhood as a man who was writing the great American novel and imagined him somewhere in the world now being triumphed as a literary genius.
Nick had been very close to his mother, Jody (Julianne Moore), but he never lost hope that he would someday meet his father again, or like his father, he would become a good writer. But by the time Nick reached his 20s, his self-identity and self-esteem was sinking, especially after his mother took her own life. Without his mother as an emotional anchor, or his father as a mentor, Nick’s life became a mixture of melancholy and low ambition. With little financial resources, he took a job helping out at a local homeless shelter in his hometown of Boston.
Although Nick knew little of his father, he did have some images of him from his mother. There were times when he thought about his father’s fate as he spent his days helping out the hopeless and shattered lives of the men who wondered in and out of the shelter, many of whom were now so broken by their addictions that they resembled the walking dead.
Jonathan Flynn in reality did not live far away. Most of his life had been spent in dreaming about his writing the “great American novel” and what accolades he would receive. Unfortunately, there was a deep divide between Jonathan’s dreams and his alcohol-fueled delusions. In reality, Jonathan’s life had become profane in every sense of the word and his world lacked any real friends other than the ones in his mind. He was also broke.
All of this predictably builds to the point where one day as Nick is handing out towels and bedding to the homeless men, he comes face to face with the one man he never expected to see there: his father. Once each of them comes to the realization of who the other is, Nick is beside himself wanting to help his father out, while Jonathan reverts to his addict behavior and tries to use Nick as a means to continue his narcissistic-delusions and alcoholism.
For Nick, the weeks that follow are both traumatic and disappointing. He sinks further into depression, cannot function socially and begins to use addictive substances to ease his pain. His father is not only the complete opposite of what he imagined him to be, he is worse. He has become racist, mentally unstable, constantly reminding Nick that his mother was not a saint and proclaiming that his son is a carbon copy of himself. Hearing his father’s words sets off a psychological trigger in Nick and he begins to believe he is his father, and starts on his own downward spiral of self-destruction. Within weeks he is consuming heavy drugs as he sinks into despair.
Without giving away some of the significant interactions that take place, it is a turning point in their relationship when at both of their lowest points, Jonathan yells at his son in a moment of alcohol-fueled frenzy, stating: “you will never be like me, you don’t have it in you to be as good as me.” His father’s words had triggered his descent into hell, and now his father’s words gave him a release from hell. For the first time, Nick realized he could make a choice as to who he was.
By the end of the story, some years later, Nick finds his father again and invites him to a local bookstore where Nick will be giving a reading from his recently published book. His father builds up the courage to go and, from a distance, listens to Nick tell his life story. At the end, Jonathan goes up to his son and congratulates him on his success. Nick appreciates his kind words, and in turn introduces him to his African-American wife and their daughter. Jonathan smiles approvingly.
» The imprinting fathers place on their children cannot be overestimated. How is your life affected by your father?
» The negative impact of discovering the truth about his father puts Nick into a downward spiral. How did it affect you when you realized the truth about who your father is? How old were you when you discovered this?
» When Nick’s mother kills herself, it not only steals him of her presence but of her support. Why do you think she bailed on him?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.