Two weeks ago, I celebrated my 45th birthday. I treat my birthday as the one day of the year that’s all about me, and I’m cocky enough to think July 10th should be a national holiday. I suppose part of my self-adoration on my birthday is that I came from a dysfunctional mess of a family, and had such a hard time growing up that I came to think I owed myself a celebration of my birth. What a gift it was shortly after my 45th that writer/ actor/ director Lukas Hassel shared with me his short film “The Son, The Father…” It’s a tale about a tragically broken family, and how an incident on a boy’s birthday lives to haunt both son and father.
It’s odd the mother is downgraded to an ellipsis in the title, given she’s the engine that drives “The Son, The Father…” Ironically, the short begins with the her. Or more accurately, a fly on a glass, followed by mother hitting the floor. It then follows young Luke on his way home. It’s his birthday, and he’s got a nice, yellow balloon. All the world should be his, but things are a little off. There’s an ominous hawk way up in the clouds; his elderly neighbor hides behind bushes, dog in hand, waiting to sneak him a present; she talks derogatorily about his mother; he enters the house to the buzzing of that fly. Entering the house, he finds her splayed out on the floor. Is she dead? Is she passed out drunk? Or is this something altogether different? There’s a psychological game going on here, and it’s abusive to Luke on his birthday of all days. The father enters, and looks lost at this odd turn of events. I gather this family has been on the edge for a while, and he no longer knows how to shield their son from what is wrong.
I don’t want to ruin what’s to come, but a family on the verge of shattering gets broken, and once the proverbial teacup is shattered, there’s no putting it back together. Luke does something he cannot undo, to end the abusive cycle, but there are prices to pay. The worm turns, and there’s a reckoning for the son, the father and the mother. And it’s devastating. There is a brilliant swerve at the end that I never saw coming, a bait and switch between son and father that’s absolutely terrifying, and I applaud Hassel for having the guts to write it as such.
Hassel’s tale jangles the nerve, not only because of the subject matter, but also because of the narrative. The structure isn’t neat and tidy, rather it’s a bit off, fragmented and jagged in places, a reflection of its characters and their relationships. I enjoyed its unconventional approach, with its shift in focus from the mother to the bond between the two men, as it challenged me and didn’t take me where I thought it would go. It’s a profound tale of suffering, and how those open wounds don’t necessarily heal with time as the cliché proffers. Rather, they grow and morph with the years, and the suffering haunts us to the grave.
As for his acting, Lukas Hassel is something to marvel as the father. He has this haunted quality in all his performances, so much so that even when he first enters the short and is smiling, there’s pain behind the eyes. He’s strikingly handsome, and likely could ride through parts on his good looks alone, but his soul is in every performance. The best I can say is that I felt more for the father at the end than I did for the son at the beginning. On first viewing that surprised me, but on a second watch, I realized that’s just Hassel’s powerful performance.
I’m privileged to have interacted with some great artists on the independent film scene the last few years. I’m honored to add Hassel to that group, and flattered he chose to share “The Son, The Father…” with me. Thank you for the birthday gift, Lukas. It will stay with me in my soul, as all great art does.