[Ryan] On God, And Bears, And Dads: ‘Come To Daddy’

Come to Daddy doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I think that’s the point.

Without spoiling too terribly much, suffice it to say that Come to Daddy is about a rich young doofus traveling to meet his estranged father for the first time in thirty years and finding that there is something deeply, horrifically wrong with him.

Based on the trailers, you can make any number of plausible guesses. My assumption, walking into the film, was that Elijah Wood was going to learn that his estranged father was a cannibal, or a serial killer, or a cannibal-serial-killer, who kills and then cannibalizes the ones he kills. That would have been an interesting film, but it’s not the film I saw.

Far Cry, actually.

At turns, Come to Daddy feels like it’s about to veer into 18th-century-Gothic-novel territory, complete with sinister noblemen disguising themselves as ancient daemons to scare folks off valuable properties that are up for grabs, but it never quite makes that turn either.

At other points, It feels like it’s about to trans-mutate into one of those White People Dramas that my wife loves and makes us watch and gets nominated for Oscars at the beginning of each award season, but it never quite goes there either.

It’s hard to say with any confidence that it goes anywhere in particular, to be honest: Come to Daddy will take a narrative turn, walk back the narrative turn, dive headlong into something totally different, walk that back a bit, and then light itself on fire before your eyes, so to speak. I’m not sure whether these things recommend the movie to you or encourage you to steer clear, but this is an accurate description of the film I saw.

All of which is to say, I generally enjoyed it.

Come to Daddy isn’t revolutionary, It probably won’t make many top 10 lists, but I can recommend it, almost solely on the basis that it was a very fascinating 90 minutes. I was not sure where it was going. None of its many bizarre narrative turns fall flat. It was not aesthetically bankrupt. It did not catapult into the same blasted conclusion every other movie with similar subject matter tends to barrel towards. It was genuinely frightening. It was generally funny. When it’s gruesome, it’s gruesome, and I do recall squirming a couple of times, which is not normal for me. Michael Smiley, one of my favorite currently-working actors, turns in a performance worth showing up for in itself, even divorced from the surrounding movie. But more than anything, honestly, it was just interesting.

The film embodies the way that damaging parental relationships disorient you. As I mentioned earlier, much of the film makes relatively little sense. A certain character dies, and then appears for quite some time to be a ghost. But he is not. Or is he? Are we experiencing what’s happening, or are we simply experiencing the Surreal Bizarro World projected onto Elijah Wood’s surroundings as a result of his general instability and sheepishness?

Side characters are introduced, an arc begins to develop, the arc is summarily aborted; there are setups with absolutely no payoff. Perhaps it’s simply sloppy film-making – since this is Ant Timpson’s directorial debut. But this is not Ant Timpson’s first rodeo. He is a seasoned producer, and a good one. He knows what he’s doing. Much of what renders Come to Daddy disorienting is probably less due to sloppiness than to the plain fact that we lose our bearings – permanently and violently – when the people meant to care for us abandon us.

I hate the word “toxic,” for obvious reasons, but I’m struggling to think of another adjective at this particular moment: Toxic Parenthood turns the world surreal for the children it inflicts itself upon. Such is the case for Elijah Woods character, here, and such is the case for most of the folks on planet earth, it seems.

Perhaps that’s to be expected. As the Bible narrates, “we are all God’s offspring.” Human fatherhood is, essentially, an echo of God’s “Divine Fatherhood.” Human motherhood, too, has its roots in God’s own Parenthood – God as a “mother hen,” as Jesus narrates in the gospels, or God as “mother bear,” as Hosea very colorfully alludes to, and as the author of 2 Kings very colorfully illustrates. Human parenthood is a projection of God’s Divine Parenthood, And when human Parenthood is broken, the shrapnel catches everything, warps everything, sabotages everything.

And yet, remarkably enough, Come to Daddy hints, however modestly, that even this shrapnel isn’t final. That – to crib a quote from the British novelist Francis Spufford – “Far more can be mended than we know.”

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