Dubus on Film

Two of Andre Dubus’s most well-known stories have been adapted for the screen.

MV5BYzQ3ZjhlMWItNGRmNS00OWQzLWJhYjEtMjA3NWIxNmZhNTFkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_In the Bedroom (2001) is based on Dubus’s short story, “Killings,” which originally appeared in his collection Finding a Girl in America. This story now appears as the opening story in the second volume of this collection, The Winter Father.

Debuting at Sundance, the film rose to mainstream success and introduced many viewers to Dubus’s work for the first time. In the Bedroom became the first official Sundance film to be Academy Award nominated, and Sissy Spacek, who played Ruth Fowler in the film, won the Golden Globe for Best Actress.

“Killings” is the tense depiction of the Fowler family in the aftermath of their son’s murder, after he is killed by his lover’s ex-husband.

The opening language in the story is haunting and stark, a white space followed simply by: “Richard Strout shot Frank in front of the boys.” From this point, the story advances cloaked in heavy, unrelenting dread, as Frank’s family grieves, and finds their bitterness sharpened by the lack of justice served. Richard Strout, Frank’s killer and the ex-husband of Frank’s lover, is quickly back on the streets, having posted bail. Based on the lack of direct eye witnesses, it seems likely that Strout will spend little to no time in jail for the killing, and the grief of the Fowler family (particularly Frank’s mother) is compounded by having to see his killer around town.

The story is similarly ominous with its visual effects. And as the father, not always sure of his course of action, pursues his son’s killer in the name of revenge, it is impossible to look away. The film’s retitling adds another layer: it is inspired by the name for a rear compartment of a lobster trap and refers to how it can only hold up to two lobsters before those captured lobsters begin to turn on each other. This takes on a dark resonance with the story.

 

downloadWe Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004) is the second film based on the stories of Andre Dubus, starring Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause, and Naomi Watts. A story of the same title is the first of three stories following the Allison and Linhart families. “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” opens Dubus’s 1975 short story collection, Separate Flights and contains characters that Dubus returned to in two later stories, “Adultery” and “Finding a Girl in America.”

The title for this story and for our volume of the same name came from something a friend said that clearly haunted Dubus. The story begins with it as an epigraph:

Come see us again some time; nobody’s home but us, and we don’t live here anymore.

The comment is attributed to “a friend, drunk one night” and it leaves the reader feeling unsettled from the outset, a tone that does not lift. Like these characters, who literally and figuratively seem not content to lie in their own beds, the reader is hoisted from their own comfort.

This domestic discontent leads Jack, our main character, to have a passionate affair with the wife of his best friend and colleague, Hank Allison (renamed Hank Evans in the film). Both couples struggle with the young age at which they married and the complex emotional landscape one has to navigate in marriage, reconciling the responsibilities of sharing a home and co-parenting children with the personal and romantic relationship.

In both films, as with Dubus’s original stories, the conflicts between and within characters complicate the ideas we have of ourselves and how we relate to others, and the small compromises we make to save the parts of our lives we can’t do without.