I watched this because I listened to the audiobook of the novel and loved it, and when I found out there was a movie too, and that Robin Wright is in it, that really put the icing on the cake. I liked her ever since 1984 when the soap opera “Santa Barbara” started on TV.
Michael Cunningham wrote the novel and the screenplay. Cunningham is obviously an expert on the folks who practically invented the concept that, as the film’s tagline puts it, “Family can be whatever you want it to be.” This work comes from a mind saturated with Bloomsbury lore–Cunningham also wrote The Hours, a novel about Virginia Woolf that was made into a movie.
One of the central figures of Bloomsbury was the painter Duncan Grant. Apparently nobody ever said a bad word about Grant. He seems to have been universally loved by males and females alike, and the character of Bobby in A Home at the End of the World is what I imagine Duncan Grant must have been like.
When Bobby is nine, his big brother Carl gives him some windowpane, and they trip in the graveyard. Carl is a really beautiful guy, a true bodhisattva, and his relationship with his brother is probably the one he’s most present for. Of course Carl dies horribly and far too young. But rather than being messed up by that tragedy, Bobby incorporates Carl’s spirit into himself, and becomes exactly the same kind of loving and lovable person. (Carl is played by Ryan Donowho, who was in Michael Pitt’s band Pagoda, and for some reason that doesn’t surprise me.)
Bobby seems to be about 14 when he picks a friend and gets him stoned, out in the midst of lush nature, ahhhhh….. He lends Jonathan his dead brother’s jacket, and Jonathan lends Bobby his jacket, and their bond is cemented. Jon’s mother Alice walks in on them getting stoned, and to Jon’s flabbergasted astonishment, Bobby induces her to join them. It’s a lovely scene, mother and son handing off a doobie to each other. Even more mind-boggling, Bobby slow-dances with Alice. Then they all dance. This is a dope-positive movie, and there aren’t enough of those.
Bobby pretty much joins the family. When Alice discovers that the boys are fooling around, she’s okay with it, but Jonny is uptight. Bobby is totally comfortable with the relationship. “It’s just love, man.” When somebody else is fretting about something or other, Bobby is likely to say, “This is perfect.” His best line is, and these are words to live by, “You can dance to anything.”
Now they’re grownups. Jonny (Dallas Roberts) has moved to New York. Bobby (Colin Farrell), who looks a lot like that iconic photo of David Foster Wallace, has stayed with his friend’s parents. But they plan to move to Arizona, and the father gently suggests that Bobby needs to be on his own. So he calls Jonathan, who is by now a full-fledged bisexual living in New York with an artistic wild woman named Clare (Robin Wright of course.). These are the kind of people who listen intently to Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” several times in a row. The three of them form a coalition, and Bobby learns that Jon and Clare have talked about having a baby. Clare talks Bobby into losing the hippie look. She cuts his hair, then takes him to bed. It’s his first time with a woman, and his reaction is a bit extreme, unless you factor in the feelings he might be having about betraying Jon. Of course Jon has male lovers, but the woman he lives with is a different case.
And sure enough, Jon is upset with the new closeness of Bobby and Clare. He goes to stay with his parents for a while, and won’t even take Bobby’s calls. But then his father dies, and Bobby and Clare arrive in Arizona to reclaim the lost member of their triad. Clare is pregnant and wants them all to be a family. So they reconcile. Her inheritance will buy them a house.
They abandon New York City and fix up a house in the country, and open a café in town, with Bobby as cook and Jonny as staff. The baby is born. Jon fears that he has AIDS. There’s another exquisitely beautiful, wild, life-affirming scene where the two men dance. They are so hot together, it’s just magical.
There’s a lot of detail passed by in the movie that was probably in the novel – like, who is the baby’s bio-father? And does Jon ever actually get tested for HIV, and does Clare know about his worries; and if the little girl is his, shouldn’t she be tested too? Anyway, Clare and the baby get ready to go on a trip. Everybody pretends to believe it’s just temporary, but she’s leaving Bobby and Jonny alone. But we know Jon is going to die, so she’ll end up back with Bobby and a nuclear family eventually.
People who create unorthodox families are incredibly brave and admirable. It’s mean-spirited to be irritated with these characters because they couldn’t make it work perfectly, all the time. On the other hand, they did make it work amazingly well for an astonishing amount of time, which is more than most of us are equipped or inclined to do. So, bless them.