In George Clooney’s Suburbicon, things are broken. The focus of the media attention in this 1959 paradise of picket fences and Stepford Wives values is the arrival of the first African-American family, the Mayers, who quietly move in across from Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) and his family. But the audience’s attention is drawn to a terse, charged home invasion of the Lodge household that ends with the death of Lodge’s wife.Damon is excellent as a buttoned-up (or is it neutered) accountant; Moore plays her dual roles splendidly, with a cheeriness that echoes those Leave It To Beaver ideals. What happens next is pure Coen Brothers: nuanced, shocking, and layered. For audiences, it’s either a classic entree into their insights about human nature, or it is a disjointed jumble of mismatched thoughts.
Lodge’s wife is played by Julianne Moore who also plays her twin sister and the aunt of Lodge’s son, Nicky (Noah Jupe). It allows for us to see Lodge’s quiet desperation through her eyes, and plays out some hinky Single White Female vibes that the audience can see coming pretty quickly. Here, the Coens don’t seem to be as interested in confusing us, or keeping us in the dark about the mystery of the motivation for the home invasion as much as they are challenging us to keep our eyes focused on the main thing that is actually occupying Suburbicon.
This is a film about race relationships, about cause and effect, in suburban America in 2018.
There’s a shocking scene – or at least, it would be shocking if it wasn’t par for the Coen course – where Lodge sits across from his son and talks about the facts of life. It’s nuanced, but oh so droll, except for the remains of their expectations that lie all around them in physical destruction and human loss. And in the midst of reflecting on the way violence has taken hold of their family, Lodge says, “And I don’t want you playing with that colored boy next door.” Nonchalant, like the violence that has descended on them has something to do with the Mayers moving in next door.
Now, while the Mayers have moved in, and the Lodges are dealing with their own personal tragedies, dozens of whitebread, All-American types – good churchgoing, hymn-singing types, gather around and protest the Mayers’ presence. They think that the Mayers are bringing down the neighborhood, because they’re black, while murderous, terrible things are happening literally in their backyard. They believe that keeping out “the other” will protect the children, keep out the sin, keep life pure. And yet, they’re already impure, the sin is already there, the violence festers and simmers to the surface because human nature is human nature. The violence already lies in the heart of man, and breaks out in its selfish, ravenous desires, nurtured by fear and group think.
And yet, Suburbicon leaves us believing that maybe there’s hope. In our children.
Special features on Paramount’s Blu-ray includes commentary from director/co-writer George Clooney and co-writer/producer Grant Heslov (written with the Coen Brothers), a welcome to the town of Suburbicon, the formation of the score for the film, and the casting efforts in “The Unusual Suspects.”