Monday, February 16, 2009

The Man from Elysian Fields Channels Aesop

What would you give up to get what you want? It’s a question we answer in sundry ways each and every day. We sacrifice a sit-down breakfast to snatch an extra fifteen minutes of sleep. We give up an afternoon at the office to see a child’s T-ball game. We go out for an evening on the town rather than work late remodeling the spare room. Each benefit requires a trade, each desire a cost. It’s this axiom that’s the beating heart of The Man from Elysian Fields.

Byron Tiller wants two things, namely to become a successful author and to provide for his wife and son. But a thriller about the lovechild of Hitler and Eva Braun went directly to the bargain bin, and Tiller now has to ask his father-in-law for loans in order to put groceries on the table. Unable to sell a new novel, he secretly seeks employment at the only place that will have him, an agency called Elysian Fields -- an escort agency. While he only plans to work just long enough to get back on his financial feet, he spies an opportunity when a client’s husband turns out to be a Pulitzer-winning writer. But Tiller hasn’t considered that risking one goal to achieve the other might endanger both.

I'll admit from the start that Elysian Fields is flawed. The style is anachronistic, the actors rely too much on profanity to provide emotional punch, and the closing comes across as unstructured and sloppy. Critics, though, disliked it for other reasons. Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune decried the film’s “message-mongering moralism,” while Dallas Morning News’ Tom Sime called it “absurdly sentimental.” Yet the movie is more fable than drama and as such ought to wear its theme proudly on its sleeve, which works surprisingly well. We might not have to barter body and soul, but in ways silent and subtle we often pay for what we cannot have with the paradise we already own.

(Picture: CC 2007 by

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