Where the Heart Is

(John Boorman, USA, 1990)


Like many a John Boorman film, Where the Heart Is is fairly mind-boggling. Revisiting the director's Leo The Last (1970) and anticipating much of The Fisher King (1991) in its story of the merry becoming-poor of a cloistered, privileged family, it's also a free adaptation (by Boorman and his daughter Telsche) of The Tempest, with special reference to Paul Mazursky's previous modernisation.

Long after its release – and even after the rehabilitation of Boorman's career via Beyond Rangoon (1995), The General (1998) and Faber & Faber's Projections annual – it remains a little seen, criminally underrated work. And it is (in part) a teen movie with Uma Thurman!

All Boorman's films, by their finales, become grand, ecological parables about the balancing of large earthly and heavenly forces. Those set in the present day are perhaps his most beguiling, for in them such forces include not only wind, fire, magic and the rainforests, but also (as here) multinational capital, modern art, and the perpetual building and unbuilding of cities – with the bulldozing and exploding of fine old structures both lamented and celebrated (by the Dabney Coleman character) as "poetry".

And I think it's only the second film ever (after Pakula's Rollover, 1981) where you actually get to witness the complete collapse of Western civilisation – at the stock exchange, of course.

It's an hilarious, touching, completely eccentric film that definitely creeps up on you, safe-sexual discretion and all. As always, Boorman's direction is intricate, masterly and often hallucinatory – especially in the scene where Coleman walks dazed through a fog of chicken feathers at a black gospel mass, delivering a soliloquy about home, heart, chicken shit and the stock market.

The cast is a party list outdoing even Nicolas Roeg on a good day: especially notable are Christopher Plummer, almost unrecognizable as a vagrant named The Shit ("at least I'm the shit, not a shit!"), and Crispin Glover as a "closet heterosexual".

MORE Boorman: The Tailor of Panama

© Adrian Martin November 1991/September 2000

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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