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Why I LOVE East of Eden


One good brother. One bad. 

Elia Kazan's 1955 film, East of Eden, is a masterpiece. Top-notch performances, smooth pacing and flawless shot composition make this my favorite film of all time. 

Kazan's status as a great director was pretty much sealed with his works A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront. Both pictures earned 12 nominations each. A Streetcar Named Desire winning four of those twelve nominations; Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Art Direction. When Kazan released On the Waterfront three years later, a film that won eight of it's twelve nominations, he would win Best Director for himself and Best Actor for Brando, launching his career in the process. 

East of Eden was the next film release by Kazan. He would assemble a cast of actors he had never worked with before, looking for a new actor and "new Brando" for the role of Cal Trask, a emotional complex and troubled young man. Paul Osborn, the film's screenwriter, suggested an unknown TV actor, James Dean, for the role. Steinbeck would meet with Dean about the role and noted some dislike for him personally but could not deny he was perfect for it. Dean would join the Trask family along with Raymond Massey as Adam Trask, the father and role model for the two sons, Richard Davalos as Aron Trask, Cal's brother and noted "good" one, and Jo Van Fleet as Kate, estranged mother to the boys and assumed dead by them both. Van Fleet would win Best Supporting Actress but the real winner in my mind is Julie Harris as Abra, Aron's wife to be and the conflicted party between the dueling brothers. Each performance is not only great but builds off one another splendidly. Cal slowly going from loner to lost soul in search of a father's respect while Aron steeps lower and lower into... douche territory (I honestly can't find a more fitting term). While I'm sure Dean was guaranteed success at some point, Kazan was the first film director to recognize it and man does he get the most from the young James Dean. 

The original story is set in the years leading up to America's involvement in WW1. In the idyllic plains and farmlands of southern California, Steinbeck crafts a tale that echoes the story of Cain and Abel. Cal Trask, based on the wicked brother Cain, is labeled the bad one. The opening scenes with Cal present him as standoffish and constantly working against his brother and father. Aron Trask, taking influence from Abel, is the pride of his father. Aron even dates the prettiest girl in town. Kazan poses Cal and Aron as opposites narratively and visually. He uses mirroring shot composition to compare and contrast the two characters perfectly, almost subconsciously leading us to see them as opposing. Kazan’s use of Dutch angles in moments of contention between Cal and others illustrates Dean in a more sinister light than any other time in his career. He pushes in tight on Dean’s expressive face during Cal’s moments of weakness to lead us to sympathize with his immense sadness and anger. Kazan’s technic matched with Dean’s moodiness makes each scene seem otherworldly. Abra’s stage position throughout the film slowly follows Kazan’s intent for the viewer, beginning on the arm of Aron and finishing draped over Cal at the bedside of his father. The end of the film leaves the viewer left to ponder which brother is truly “good” and how the film values goodness and wickedness.

While there is a lot I haven't touched on, this films works within many other themes including the concept of a child inheriting the sins of a parent. I cannot recommend this film enough to anyone looking for a great drama. 

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About TheeHeadAcheone of us since 11:15 AM on 03.13.2015


Also on Dtoid doing that blog thing. Probably going to have more on here because movies are my jam.

I pretend to do 3d and VFX stuff too.