Published Dec 08, 2011Ailing matriarchs, disaffected offspring and precarious inheritances, The Eye of the Storm (Fred Schepisi's film about a family reuniting around a mother's deathbed) has all the components of a corrosive family drama. But when you consider the formidable casting of Geoffrey Rush, Charlotte Rampling and Judy Davis as the dysfunctional Hunter family trio, Schepisi's first film since 2005's Empire Falls is almost the perfect storm.
Elizabeth Hunter (Rampling) has led a life marked by unflinching control over her surroundings, whether they're extra-marital liaisons or her children's successes in high society. It's a quality that put her husband in an early grave and promptly chased her offspring off to the far reaches of Europe, where Basil (Rush) is a foundering actor and playwright in the West End, and Dorothy (David) is a real-life French princess fiercely holding onto a title she lost in a divorce.
With their aging mother close to death, the children return to be at her side. But whether they're there to mend their threadbare relationships with Elizabeth or collect hefty inheritances is debatable, and it seems the matriarch isn't ready to relinquish control just yet. Just as she manipulated in life, Elizabeth does so in death, even as she teeters on the edge of sanity, and it's the people around her that must weather the storm.
Based on Patrick White's critically acclaimed novel, Schepisi's film garners generous comparisons to Shakespearean tragedy King Lear — incidentally referenced in the film as one of Basil's plays — with the afflicted king supplanted by Rampling's railing matriarch, who has similar scores to settle with her children.
Schepisi toys awkwardly with various motifs throughout (spoiled fruit, stained clothes, a dead bird, etc.), trying to convey the volatile nature of life and the things we fill in it, coupled with the certainty of death. But it's the relationships between Elizabeth and her children that are most compelling. We begin to recognize that though Basil is his mother's favourite, it's Dorothy whom she shares an unsettling history with, one she revisits in the titular tempest of her final hours.
Stripped of the pomp that pervades Schepisi's film, The Eye of the Storm tells bold truths about the clarity that comes in turbulent times and the nature of making amends. Rush, Davis and Rampling are sublime, elevating this family drama into something profound. (eOne)