Affliction | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, May 24th, 2024  


Studio: Shout! Factory

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Paul Schrader’s Affliction is a disturbing, nuanced look at how childhood trauma manifests and re-surfaces throughout one’s adulthood, dangerously affecting the ways one interacts with themselves and those around them.

Affliction smartly and deceptively begins as a different film. The film’s main plotline follows Wade (Nick Nolte), a humble policeman in a small New Hampshire town where it snows early, hard and constantly. In a place where everyone knows each other, Wade’s police work is relatively simple and non-confrontational. He commands traffic outside the town’s school, plows roads around town and keeps strong relationships with the town’s citizens. The simplicity of Wade’s daily lifeor the illusion of simplicityonly makes it more abrupt when a hunting accident happens deep in the woods, resulting in the suspicious death of an out-of-towner.

As Wade begins to investigate the causes of the shooting, he quickly begins to suspect that not everything is what it seems, given the victim’s financial wealth and connections to some of the town’s shadier figures. Diving deeper into the case, Wade’s mental health quickly deteriorates as he balances his work with his personal lifeincluding his impending divorce, custody difficulties with his child and constant recollections of the violence he suffered as a child at the hands of his father.

Affliction is both a narrative feature and a character study, with the two approaches operating in an inverse relationship. While the film steadily builds its intrigue throughout, as more of Wade’s personal life and childhood are explored on-screen, the hunting accident begins to change in importance, mattering instead on account of what it represents and incites in Wade’s psyche.

Schrader accomplishes this feat by taking the necessary time to introduce audiences to Wade’s complex character, problems and insecuritieslong before the accident occurs. The film’s opening 15 minutes solely capture Wade’s relationship with his daughter during their time spent together on Halloween evening, using stale conversations and forced actions to highlight their complete estrangement from one another. Small gestures, like Wade trying to reason why he was late to pick his daughter up (causing them to miss trick-or-treating) or forcing her to talk to her old classmates at her previous school’s Halloween party, are difficult and uncomfortable to watch. Even after this sequence is over, Schrader continues to probe into various aspects of Wade’s private life using flashbacks of him being abused as a child, continually reinforcing how the character is an amalgamation of unresolved trauma waiting to explode. When Wade begins to fall apart, particularly during the film’s second half, Affliction becomes incredibly difficult to watch, as the character makes dangerous decisions that, despite their horrible nature, make sense given how he has reduced himself.

To visually capture and portray Wade’s complex psyche, Schrader relies on several stylistic techniques, most notably black-and-white and 16mm film. Wade’s imagining of the crime scene, where he pictures the hunting accident as a murder, is always shot with black-and-white, whose monochromatic hues communicate and juxtapose the event’s general uncertainty with Wade’s certainty that the accident couldn’t have unfolded any other way than the way he believes. Flashbacks of Wade being abused by his father are shot in 16mm, providing a notable distinction from the rest of the film and adding to the situation’s and character’s horror, almost operating as “found-footage” rather than key elements of the film’s story. The film’s oscillation between these styles helps nuance its portrait of Wade, constantly showing the past haunts his character and how his unresolved memories directly prop his actions up.

Affliction boasts several incredible performances. Nolte shines as Wade, perfectly capturing the character’s complexities in a way that feels warranted to the story and its distinct components. The film also has an incredible supporting cast, including Sissy Spacek, William Dafoe and James Coburn, who—despite their reduced screen time—equal and complement Nolte’s intensity, solidifying the film’s themes in a chilling, thought-provoking way.



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