The Bed You Sleep In


After studying author Jon Jost's filmography I decided to base my critical response primarily on one of his more successful and renown films, The Bed You Sleep In. The film focuses upon the life of a man, Ray, who happens to own a lumber mill in a quiet secluded town in Oregon. He is struggling not only to make money but to keep his business open as bigger corporations are taking all his customers. As he struggles with the hardships of the business the story centers on a potentially disastrous mid life crisis, that of which is daughter, who is away at college has accused him of molestation. This destroys the trust held between him and Jean, his wife. Jean struggles with not knowing who to believe herself, the man she has been married to for so many years or the daughter that she raised. In the end, this untrustworthiness consumes the entire family. Their daughter commits suicide because Jean won't believe her, Jean in turn commits suicide for not believing her daughter and Ray does the same after discovering that all he has held dear to him is now gone. Coming off as a great American tragedy the viewer is left with their own interpretation of the truth. They might believe that Ray did in fact molest his daughter or that he did not and that she is making it up for attention or because she is confused for whatever reason. However the following will be my interpretation of the film.

My first response to The Bed You Sleep In was that it was a very slow film. To cut between scenes or events in the story we are shown a part of town. Whether it be hills, trees, a street or a house, the viewer would be left staring at the chosen spot for three to five minutes. There would be no main action going, it would be nothing but hearing the wind, an occasional car perhaps a person walk by. It was a typical small town however magnified for we are forced to watch nothing happening. The dialogue throughout the movie was especially slow, slower than in reality. There would be pauses between rebuttals in dialogue that lasted up to a minute in silence. At time I found that there was even a lack of emotion in the characters on screen. For instance, Jean, the main character's wife was having a conversation with her friend at while the two were sitting at a table. It felt as if there was no emotion between the two, almost as if they were reciting lines. There was no movement other than their mouths when they spoke which is very odd. Once one began to talk, the other seemed to freeze, there were no interruptions or movement while the other was talking, which not normal at all to anyone. Regardless of what we are talking about in a given conversation there are always nonverbal communication cues. However my discomfort with that aspect of the film I can somewhat understand what Mr. Jost was attempting to do. By removing these nonverbal communication cues and completely slowing down the dialogue he was in fact giving the story to us in pieces ( www.Jon-Jost.com). We could focus on the piece at hand, almost to the point of it being independent of the actual whole. It also highlights and benefits the ending of the story. The entire story moves slowly, we slowly find out who Ray is, what he does, where he spends his free time. We are slowly introduced to his financial problems, the main conflict in the story is read to us at a very slow pace. However the end comes at the viewer much faster. Within a span of 10 minutes, Ray's daughter, Jean and Ray himself have all committed suicide. What is most ironic about the final scene is the way in which Ray ends his life. Of all ways to commit suicide Ray chooses his end with that of a pistol and a bullet. Nothing would symbolize a quick ending than that of a speeding bullet.

As said in the introduction, the viewer is left with their own interpretation of the truth. Ray has died and the truth with him. Which is also symbolic because we, the viewers, now take on Jean's perspective. We are unsure of what to believe. We will of course, not follow her action for that particular question of trust does not weight on our shoulders like it did on hers. In my opinion I would have to say that Ray did in fact have a secret that he did not share with his wife. I pull this conclusion from two main fact given to us in the film. The first is Ray's response to the accusation. He does deny that he ever touched his daughter in an inappropriate way, however he forbids Jean to go and see her with obvious fear that she could be convinced otherwise. The second would be his own action in taking his life. I find in taking his own life that he is too ashamed to go on for his actions have cost him two lives which meant the world to him.

In conclusion, Mr. Jost has created a film which is simple in nature and dramatic in its ending. However the film's simplistic nature, it does provide an almost painfully slow process to getting to its conclusion. In its whole, the slow pace of the film amplifies the strength of its fast ending. It also carries the viewer from beginning to end, showing every connection within the story line, however it still leaves them with speculation and theories at the films end. In hindsight the film is an independent masterpiece and is deserving of the awards it has received.

--Robert McKnight, 2006.

Jon Jost