Rated R for sexuality, nudity, and some violence. Like the rest of the BBS box set, it's approach to sexuality is almost bohemian in quality. It treats open sexuality as part of the norm. Similarly, behavior tends to be a bit on the bizarre side. The movie also has a 1970s attitude about racism. Black men are considered thugs and involved in crime while white people tend to be on the more white-collar stuff. This is a fairly typical R rating for the box set.
DIRECTOR: Bob Rafelson
Now that I'm on Letterboxd, I have to remember to build up my street cred. I can't be throwing down Disney classics every other movie. I need to remember my film roots! I had never seen this one before, but I kept hearing about it. These were whispers from the film nerds at the video store. It's not like I knew anything about it. Heck, without the rest of the BBS box set from Criterion, I don't think that I would have been ready to even watch it. But The King of Marvin Gardens and Five Easy Pieces were enough to justify getting the box set alone. (I had seen the other major films in the box set and the lesser known movies in the set were fine.) But like with the rest of the box, there might be some discoveries as I write today. After all, challenging art makes us question and re-question what we're absorbing. Let's see if I mine anything good or if it all comes out as trash today.
There's an allusion to Of Mice and Men in the movie and that put a lot together for me. Thank goodness it is there, because there was a lot of "What am I watching?" throughout the film. David makes this reference about tending the rabbits and it all clicked for me. David and Jason are dreamers. Jason is the unrealistic dreamer. He lives in this world of delusion. Part of that comes from his con man background. He is drowning in this world of lies, but I honestly think that he believes that he's this big successful guy. Everything is around the corner for him. Jason makes sense to me. He's this guy who clearly lies to himself and to others. He's never going to be happy in the way that he wants to be, but also thinks that he's already happy. There's a scene where this cabal decides to rent out the space for the Miss America pageant. This moment at first confused me. After all, they can't pay even basic bills and now they're renting out a technical crew just to imagine an impossible luxury? Then I thought about Uncut Gems. By the way, looking for an image from King of Marvin Gardens yielded an advertisement for a King of Marvin Gardens / Uncut Gems double feature somewhere. I can't be the only one who made this connection. It is the role of the con man never to be happy with what he has. He always has to set himself to square one. It's not about getting rich. It's about beating the system. Jason, from that perspective, makes no sense to me.
But David? David is the confusing one. David, from moment one, is shown as this wrapped-up-tight guy. As a young man, he wanted to be like Jason. After all, when Jason makes the call to come down, he actually responds in the way that Jason wants him to. But David is not that man anymore. He's actually achieved the success he wanted. He's moderately famous. (I'm not quite sure what his radio show is, but it sounds like a mix between creative non-fiction readings and philosophy.) But he comes down to Atlantic City and does a paradoxical thing. He both gets wildly entangled in Jason's schemes and also sits on the side, judging everything from a distance. Part of me thinks that David has always held onto the knowledge that Jason is more free. After all, David never seems happy in the story. While Jason is having the time of his life, carousing with two women and having naked cowboy time, David is a grumpy gus who spends his life talking into a tape recorder about things that he probably no longer believes. (Buddy, I get it. There are times that I really don't want to write this blog.) Perhaps the entire movie is about David's shift out of his stuffed shirt existence into a world of chaos. Maybe that chaos is exactly what he needs.
But the world of chaos isn't exactly a balm to these people. After all, David returns to his miserable lifestyle, taking care of their father who is also obsessed with the past. Jason ends up shot. A lot of it comes from what happens when a world is all about self-obsession. Jason treats Sally terribly. Sally, for the majority of the film, on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She's constantly playing second fiddle to her own stepdaughter. Which all ties me back to the whole Of Mice and Men thing.
Maybe the Of Mice and Men thing isn't a perfect comparison, but I do want to see how much weight this analogy can hold. George and Lennie are ultimately good people continually found in situations that make them look bad. George, an altruistic soul with a hardened edge, takes care of Lennie, who continually gets them into trouble. Lennie has more investment in the dream because he's a simpleton (I hate using that word, but the book is really unclear with what's going on exactly with Lennie). George doesn't really believe in the dream until it actually gets a foundation with Candy. So, I guess David would have to be George and Jason would have to be Lennie. Jason doesn't really live in reality. He has invested everything he has into this dream that can't possibly play out the way he wants it to. David is indulging Jason's fantasy until it, too, becomes very real with him. Having David as the intellectual makes Jason seem so much more simple than he really is. But the thing that doesn't really work with the whole Of Mice and Men thing is that everyone in King of Marvin Gardens is terrible.
It almost feels like Grey Gardens was grafted to Of Mice and Men. I mean, I'm not here to judge Big Edie and Little Edie by any means. They are national treasures and that is not my place. But everything in King of Marvin Gardens is about people who have wanting more. George and Lennie's journey is a tragedy because they don't really deserve the things that are coming to them. But David, Jason, Sally, and Jessica live a life that they have chosen. Heck, David might be the most culpable of the group because he doesn't need this life. He has the opportunity to change what is going to happen, but his morbid curiosity actually leads to the death of Jason. There's a reason that everything escalated when he's there. Jason is so desperate to show off in front of his successful brother. There's a need to maintain the illusion stronger than before.
Yeah, I'm sure if I watched this a billion more times, I could get more out of it. There's something about the entire BBS set that is always going to be a bit of a mystery to me. But I loved watching all of these movies. There's something so rebellious and free-spirited about it, while being bleak and pessimistic at the same time. These stories end with death and misery, but I kind of dig that stuff. Maybe it's part of me that is trying too hard, but these movies speak to me.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.