WINTER – A Personal Take
This is not a film review. I’m not qualified to talk about writing, acting, directing, cinematography, music, or any of the other thousand things that make a good (or bad) film. I’m a watcher, an audience member, lucky enough now to have seen this film (twice), in its fledgling circuitry of film festivals. I can only say what I like and what impacts on me, and this is just a description of that.
Written and Directed by Heidi Greensmith, the film Winter is about a father, Woods Weston (Tommy Flanagan) and his two sons, Tom (Tom Payne) and Max (Bill Milner) living and surviving the aftermath of the violent death of their wife and mother, Marie. For me, it’s about relationships; those between Woods and his sons, Woods and other people and, significantly, the one between Woods and himself, the voices in his head, the struggle of who he was, who he is and who he might be in the future.
Whatever thoughts I have about Winter centre around my own internalisation, my own processes and acceptance of the traditions and norms imposed on me by other influences within society. I am the sum of my experiences, which include being a white woman, from an immigrant background with one addict parent, and the other far too busy simply trying to survive with four children, with direct elements of race and gender inequality in my upbringing, who is a divorced, single parent, working in the social care/informal education field, and who is now an orphan.
And there-in lies the truth and the heart of Winter. It makes you think. So hard. If the job of an actor/writer/director is to influence, impact, effect, sway, prompt, impel, then these immensely talented ones have made a film that is a resounding success. Up there at the top of my list. It’s been described as a beautiful film. Beautifully filmed maybe. Beautifully acted. But I can’t say I found it a beautiful film. I found it hard-hitting, persistent, brave, stark, blatant.
If the viewer comes to this film with any personal experience of the subject matter, and let’s face it, most have plenty of baggage, both claimed and otherwise, then it’s not always an easy film to watch. It asks difficult, tough and demanding questions of ourselves and our imperfect little worlds. It absolutely stimulates reflection, in the truest, widest sense of the term, for me, both personally and societally. I was so angry with the society that I live in that poor Maxi, in my real world, wouldn’t even be in the care system. He’d be out there, a casualty of austerity, in a family left to cope with the barest and minimum of support, trying to access insufficient, inadequate mental health services with forty week waiting lists.
I love the tosser in the care home. The front line worker with no idea of how to actually engage with people. We’re either brilliant, or we’re most definitely not. I’ve said those phrases. I’ve deliberated, considered, pondered my words and come out with the same crap. What a total spasm! He probably went off to recommend anger management sessions for Maxi.
I love both Tom and Maxi, played brilliantly. Understated. Confused. Torn. In different parts of the film I was each of them. Utterly real, in my humble opinion.
Tommy is amazing. It almost seems redundant to comment on his acting brilliance, and the bravery of putting himself out there. There’s not a lot of hiding from this reality. I knew he would be those things, but there are also very different things that I hadn’t considered before. He absolutely took me back to how I felt as a child. I regressed to that frightened, introspective introvert. He took me back to that fear like it was yesterday. Like it was five minutes ago. Not horror or fear of danger. Not a perceived or actual threat. Not the irrationality of a phobia. Just a twisted, knotted, gut wrenching, instinctive, intuitive dread, deep inside.
Fight, flight or freeze was never the issue. No desire to punch or rip, to lash out or battle, to struggle or argue. Not feelings of anger or rage, no fury or frenzy. I didn’t fly, I certainly didn’t stay and fight. I don’t think I even froze. That dread would just envelop me, wash over and through me, wrap me in its claustrophobic cocoon, entrap me in the repetitive, cyclical, recurrent attempts to be better, to be good. Every day, turning the key in the lock, I’d start to choke, to drown on the fear and dread that engulfed me, wishing I could be anywhere but there.
But I came out of that theatre so wanting to be like Woods. Not the tortured soul, but the funny, couldn’t give a shit, one finger up to the world, artistic, gentle, heart on his sleeve, angry, sarcastic, facetious, oh so human being. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I’ve done a thirteen hour round trip to, in effect, go to the cinema. Who would do that, except someone who just wants to say, “Because I can”?
That’s the dichotomy that I can’t navigate yet, I so liked him as a person, wanted to love him, wanted to make him better, empathised, understood, identified with him somehow. Yet when that person’s in your life it’s a bit of a bastard. Everything comes down to that. Even the bits that you think you totally have under control, that you think can’t possibly be influenced by your past. Of course they are. How can they not be?
What most struck me, what remained as I walked back from the theatre, what was stuck in my head whilst I thought, and in my dreams while I slept, was the axiom ‘the sins of the father’. Not in a religious or biblical way, but how what we have/had affects us all, in such different ways maybe, but still intrinsically, inherently, fundamentally. And I struggled with redemption. I so, so, so wanted Woods to be saved and for him to save Tom and Maxi. But in whose reality does that sort of redemption exist? In my experience, it rarely changes, seldom improves. If we’re lucky we just learn to live it better.
I love so much about this film. I love the scene where Woods is frustratingly trying to find his inspiration to paint. No clever words or fancy one-liners, just a man, lost in his world, trying to find his way back. It made me want to ask him to dance. I love where he tells Tom he has to take his place at uni. How sane, and rational and right. I love when Tom jumps on his bike (literally), breaks down, then picks it up and carts it home – the absolute duality of how close he is to breaking, but how resolutely together he is. I love that, above all else, those boys know that they’re loved.
I think, maybe more than any other film I’ve seen, certainly that I can think of, Winter pushes those internalisation buttons. Whatever we think of it is shaped by our own reflections, how we recognise our own pasts and the influences on us as adults. Recognition, knowledge, understanding, empowerment, challenge. They’re all good words, difficult but necessary processes. Winter manages to grasp them out of our soul, shake them up a bit, and roll them out. Where they land, nobody knows. Powerful stuff!