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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Running with Scissors

    Running With Scissors is the film version of Augusten Burrows’s best selling memoir of the same name. The novel was adapted for the screen by Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy, who also directed the movie. The story of Burrows’s adolescence is one of shocking surrealism. What he endures in his youth is so much stranger than fiction that one almost doubts that any of it could be untrue.

    Augusten, who is played by Justin Cross, goes to live with his mother’s psychiatrist, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox), after his alcoholic father (Alec Baldwin) walks out on him and his mother. Bipolar and completely unstable, Augusten’s mother, Deirdre, who is played magnificently by Annett Bening, desperately tries to fight what she feels is male oppression in her life as her marriage falls apart and she fails to find success as a writer.

    The dynamics of the film are greatly owed to the parallelism of Augusten’s struggle next to his mother’s. The two are also inextricably intertwined. It’s horrifying and devastating to watch Augusten trying desperately to hold his life together as he watches his mother crumble bit by bit before him. It is a reminder of the injustice of the universe as a 15 year-old boy has to try to be the adult in his own life, all the while the true adults are crushing him with the weight of their problems.

    Cross, in his portrayal of Augusten, grabs the audience hopelessly by the heartstrings. We are dragged along for the ride through his young life as he somehow incredibly manages to keep himself in one piece despite the forces against him. At times we forget that Augusten is just a child as he grapples with his mother’s illness, as well as his first relationship with a man named Bookman (Joseph Fiennes), a 35 year-old schizophrenic patient of Dr. Finch.

    The highly character-driven plot of the film, at times, can make you feel like you are watching caricatures of humans. For instance, Finch’s eldest daughter, Hope (Gwenyth Paltrow), is a Bible-loving, sometimes seemingly sociopathic young woman, who can’t seem to truly relate to other people aside from Dr. Finch himself. But these over-the-top characters ultimately do not diminish the weight of their presence in the film.

    The most present character, without a doubt, is Bening’s Deirdre. It is as if she is playing one role and many at the same time. Throughout the film she is a mother, a wife, an oppressed woman, an empowered woman, and a bipolar woman. Mostly, however, Deirdre is a troubled woman, a victim of her circumstances, who does not want to acknowledge her issue other than to turn to a crackpot doctor who encourages her to indulge her anger rather than to deal with it and move on. Somehow Bening manages to garner sympathy through her struggles despite her poor decisions and even poorer treatment of her son.

    Throughout all of the strange and unbelievable events of film, the most overwhelmingly surreal moment is at the end when the audience sees the real, grown up Augusten Burrows sitting next to Cross, his young counterpart. This image is uplifting in its bringing a sense of hope amidst all of the desperation. Without being overly hackneyed, this moment is a solidification and affirmation of Augusten’s realizations of his dreams and success.

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