USA 1997

Reviewed by Kevin Jackson


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Lawford, New Hampshire; a snowbound, economically precarious town, at the start of a typically harsh winter. Wade Whitehouse, Lawford's only policeman, is in a bad way: he's divorced, living alone in a shabby trailer, agonised by a bad tooth, drinking heavily and forced to eke out his scanty earnings with menial jobs. All his attempts to be a good father to his young daughter Jill backfire miserably, and he is clearly still in thrall to his elderly father Glen, an alcoholic bully who used to beat and berate Wade mercilessly.

Wade's only sources of comfort and sanity are the few hours he manages to spend with his girlfriend Margie and his nightly phone call to his younger brother Rolfe, who has escaped Lawford to become a history professor in Boston. Despite their support, Wade grows ever more troubled.

When a wealthy weekend visitor dies in a deer-hunting accident, Wade suspects first murder, then a conspiracy. But he is distracted from his ham-fisted attempts at investigation by the death of his mother (which brings Rolfe back to town for the first time in years), by his anguished steps to regain custody of Jill from his ex-wife Lillian, and by his excruciating toothache, which he finally cures by tearing out the rotten molar with pliers.

Desperate to regain his daughter's love, he abducts the little girl, but is so infuriated by her frightened resistance that he finally lashes out at her. Immediately horrified by himself, he lets Margie, who is leaving him for good, take Jill back to her mother. Glen taunts him, and father and son launch into a brawl which ends with Wade killing the old man and burning his corpse. Rolfe, who has been the film's narrator, explains that the supposed conspiracy was all in Wade's imagination, and that Wade's circumstances are now unknown.


Though Affliction is a high-fidelity adaptation by Paul Schrader of Russell Banks' semi-autobiographical novel of 1989, it also tends to put you in mind of earlier literary works - Zola, perhaps, or the less mirthful flowerings of Scandinavian drama. Pinched by poverty, in constant pain, humiliated by the local burghers (in one scene, even the local burger chef), Wade Whitehouse is afflicted in more ways than an assiduous social worker could catalogue, and most grievously by his emotional make-up. As the film's final voiceover underlines, he's been predestined to uncontrollable rage by his father's bullying.

The themes of a toxic childhood and the cycle of masculine violence are hardly uncommon these days, but here they have been made into the stuff of tragedy rather than soap, and Schrader has added a hint of sociology: one of his reference points when shooting was Demonic Males, a recent study of primate aggression. Almost everything about the film is scrupulously sombre, from its pallid skies and deathly winter landscape - an eastern cousin (it was actually shot near Montreal) of the Midwestern snows of Fargo, and of Schrader's youth in Michigan - to the fuzzy, desaturated memory-images which replay the horrors of Wade's childhood as fragments from a broken home movie.

Like its hero, however, the film is more often agitated than sullen, with scene after scene suddenly taking off in unexpected directions or hitting unsettling tones. A small instance: when Wade goes to see a lawyer about renegotiating custody of his child, the set-up looks like a routine confrontation between poor working stiff and greedy professional, until a reverse shot reveals that the lawyer is confined to a wheelchair. Yet another damaged male? Affliction casts many such doubts, large as well as small, and sometimes where you'd least expect them. Even its own narrator is unreliable, for example, since it's Wade's younger brother Rolfe (at first sight an escapee from their father's evil, and voice of sweetly pained reason among the drunken, brawling rednecks) who eggs Wade on to believe in a non-existent murder conspiracy.

Rolfe, the articulate brother, helps give voice to Affliction's more abstract concerns - with the temptations and betrayals of storytelling, among other matters - and his final, weary account of Wade's doomed attempt to find plots where none exists sounds suspiciously like a film director's unhappiness with the glib patterns demanded by genre fiction. Wade, the inarticulate brother, embodies the film's horror. Nolte's acting of the part is almost dismayingly accomplished. His portrait of a wrecked man with futile aspirations towards common decency may be the best work he's done, and the scenes in which he tries to show tenderness for his daughter are so remorselessly exact that they're hard to watch without flinching.

After Schrader's last two unsuccessful digressions into mongrel forms of comedy with Witch Hunt and Touch, Affliction amounts to an overwhelmingly forceful return to earlier form and earlier themes. One can imagine Wade as Travis Bickle who stayed home instead of going to the wicked city, married, had a child, got a good job, knocked himself out to be sane and normal - and still ended up in middle age as a solitary brooder, inwardly howling for a savage act of redemption.

Barring some freak response to Nolte's outstanding acting, Affliction is plainly far too austere a piece of film-making to hold its own in the multiplexes, but it invites at least three superlatives: it's Schrader's bleakest film, and his most mature, and it boasts a central performance of unmatched rawness and conviction.


Linda Reisman
Paul Schrader
Based on the novel by
Russell Banks
Director of Photography
Paul Sarossy
Jay Rabinowitz
Production Designer
Anne Pritchard
Michael Brook
©Largo Entertainment Inc
Production Companies
Largo Entertainment presents a Reisman/Kingsgate production
Executive Producers
Nick Nolte
Barr Potter
Line Producer
Josette Perrotta
Eric Berg
Frank K. Isaac
Largo Production Executive
Kathleen Haase
Kingsgate Films Liaison
Sherri Wilson
Production Co-ordinator
Danielle Boucher
Production Manager
Josette Perrotta
Unit Manager
Michel Chauvin
Location Manager
Céline Daignault
Post-production Supervisor
JoAnn M. Laub
Assistant Directors
Burtt Harris
Pedro Gandol
Francine Langlois
Marie-José Bourassa
Isabelle Brutus
Anne Alloucherie
Script Supervisor
Monique Champagne
Ellen Chenoweth
Kathleen Chopin
Rosina Bucci
Ross Clydesdale
2nd Unit Director of Photography
Bert Tougas
Camera Operator
Robert Stecko
Steadicam Operator
Rod Crombie
Special Effects
Louis Craig
Graphic Design
Carl Lessard
Art Director
Michel Beaudet
Key Decorator
Ginette Robitaille
Louis-René Landry
Costume Designer
François Laplante
Wardrobe Supervisor
Monic Ferland
Diane Simard
Claudette Casavant
Bob Pritchett
Manon Joly
The Effects House

Music Editor
Shari Johanson
Music Mixer
Bill Jackson
"Open the Door to Your Heart" by Ned Miller, performed by Bonnie Guitar; "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know" by Cecil A. Null, performed by Skeeter Davis; "Suite No.1 'Death of Ase' from "Peer Gynt" by Edvard Grieg, performed by Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra; "Proud to Be Loud", "Put the Hurt On" by Marc Ferrari
Sound Mixer
Patrick Rousseau
Re-recording Engineers
Dominick Tavella
Sound One
Supervising Sound Editor
Tony Martinez
Dialogue Editor
Jeffrey Stern
Effects Editor
Paul Soucek
Recording Engineer:
David Boulton
Gina Alfano
Brian Vancho
Recording Engineer:
George Lara
Bill Sweeney
Stunt Co-ordinator
Dave McKeown
Andrew Campbell
Nick Nolte
Wade Whitehouse
James Coburn
Glen Whitehouse
Sissy Spacek
Margie Fogg
Willem Dafoe
Rolfe Whitehouse
Mary Beth Hurt
Lillian, Wade's ex-wife
Jim True
Jack Hewitt
Marian Seldes
Alma Pittman
Holmes Osborne
Gordon LaRiviere
Brigid Tierney
Jill, Wade & Lillian's daughter
Sean McCann
Evan Twombley
Wayne Robson
Nick Wickham
Eugene Lipinski
J. Battle Hand
Tim Post
Chick Ward
Chris Heyerdahl
Frankie Lacoy
Janine Theriault
Hettie Rogers
Paul Stewart
Sheena Larkin
Lugene Brooks
Penny Mancuso
woman driver
Danielle Desormeaux
Elaine, LaRiviere's secretary
Charles Powell
Jimmy Dane
Donovan Reiter
short-haired local
Brawley Nolte
young Wade Whitehouse

Michael Caloz
young Rolfe Whitehouse
Joanna Noyes
Sally Whitehouse
Marcel Jeannin
state trooper
Susie Almgren
Mrs Gordon
Steve Adams
Mel Gordon
Martha-Marie Kleinhans
Mark Camacho

Ralph Allison
Reverend Doughty
Artificial Eye Film Company
10,263 feet
114 minutes 2 seconds
In Colour
Prints by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011