There is a moment in childhood when we know everything from this point on will be different. This is, of course, the moment we witness not just a crack in the infallible cast of parenthood, but a permanent slip from the pedestal we thought that our folks would occupy forever.
The buildup to this type of breach in the family dynamic is the subject of Caitlin Dahl's new short, White Picket Fence .
Though the title provokes an image of clean suburban bliss, the sticky backseat of the Durley family road trip is nothing of the sort. Dahl conveys the domestic condition immediately. Each member stares beyond the window of the muddy, late 1970s-model wagon. One can sense that dissatisfaction is the only thing they share.
Sarah (Hannah Hall The Virgin Suicides , Forrest Gump ) , 16, gazes out of the back window, which is clearly more inviting than her family life. Hall's eyes are stunningly dramatic and we find they carry the emotional weight of the film. Her brother Jeremy (Russell Carter) raps his baseball against a window. The youngest, Russ (Kyle Brett Farris), sits between them and is the only family member not taunted by the outside world.
Up front is nuclear parenthood at its most squeamish: Ray Durley (Stewart Skelton Failure to Launch , “Big Love”), the inert father figure's eyes glaze while Bonnie Durley's (Lee Purcell Valley Girl , Due South ) unspoken bitterness saturates the drive.
White Picket Fence is most affecting in its silence. Bonnie's well-manicured eyes are all Dahl gives to us at first. As she casts a critical glance to her children, we can nearly taste the uncomfortable air.
Dahl's underlying themes are as intense as the ensuing family crisis. Though we don't know details of the issues between Bonnie and Sarah, the embittered mother-daughter dynamic is all too easy to identify with. The drama carries them into an empty field, and Sarah pleads, “You have changed.”
This is the moment; her mother is far from the perfect rank she once held. Backed by a touching score and Purcell's dead-on expressions, this is White Picket Fence's paramount scene.
It is impossible to feel left out in this flash of Durley family history. The short's beautifully crafted cinematography and the touching emotions Dahl presents make sure of this. The script itself won't spell it out for us; we must be, and are, personally affected by White Picket Fence .