The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse—
who can understand it?
Just how “devious” is the heart we see in Ira Sachs’ film, which he co-scripted with Oren Moverman, based on John Bingham’s novel Five Roundabouts to Heaven. A dark comedy of marriage and adultery, this film stars Chris Cooper and Patricia Clarkson as Harry and Pat Allen who share a strange love for each other, and yet who seek sexual gratification with another person. Harry yearns to divorce Pat so that he can marry his mistress Kay Nesbitt (Rachel McAdams), but is convinced that his wife is so emotionally dependent upon him that the process would kill her. Harry’s sensibilities are greatly influenced by the setting of the film, the late 1940s when divorce among members of the middle class was still rare. Therefore he comes to believe that it would be more merciful to kill Pat so that she would not be left in despair by the break-up of the marriage.
What Harry does not know is that Pat would like to divorce him (for reasons that I will leave for you to discover), but believes it would be too hard on him because of his devotion to her. Playing the snake in the garden, or as the literati might prefer, Iago to Othello, is Harry’s best friend Richard Langley (Pierce Brosnan). A play-the-field bachelor, he becomes enamored with Kaye when Harry invites her to a private luncheon he has arranged for his friend. Because Kay is alone so much due to Harry’s marriage, Richard drops in on her frequently, allegedly out of altruistic motives. Gradually he worms his way into Kay’s heart.
Meanwhile, Harry proceeds with his murder plan, purchasing a powdered poison and substituting it in the bottle of medicine that Kaye takes on a regular basis because of a recurring ailment. The first time she is to take the medicine something intervenes, until one fateful night—. Harry is away from home when his conscience is aroused. He speeds home to stop her from taking the poison, but a traffic cop pulls him over. How this mess is resolved could lead one to surmise that there is a protective Providence directing the crazy affairs of humans—a Providence with a great sense of humor.
1) How does this film bear out the statement of the wife of a famous man that she had never considered divorce, but she had murder?
2) What irony do you see in Harry’s chief complaint against Pat—that what she wants from their relationship is sex? How does this go counter to the usual view of men and women?
3) How does Harry’s plan to murder his wife stem from his “good” side? How is this more like our practice of putting a suffering animal out of its misery? What does the film reveal about our ability to rationalize almost any evil deed?
4) Reflect upon the verse that follows the above quotation from the Hebrew prophet: “I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.” How is this like the old adage: “Man proposes, but God disposes.”