I Used to Be Darker (2013)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Matt Porterfield
Run Time
1 hour and 30 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★★2 out of 5

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 30 min.

Our advisories: Violence 2; Language 5; Sex/Nudity 4.

Star rating (1-5): 2.5

 Do not forsake me, O Lord;
O my God, do not be far from me;
make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation.

            Psalm 38:21-22

Director Matt Porterfield and fellow screenwriter Amy Belk have given us a close up look at families in great psychic pain. Irish teenager Taryn (Deragh Campbell) has fled from her mother to work at a seasonal job at an amusement park across the ocean in Ocean City, Maryland. When she discovers she is impregnated by her boyfriend, she goes to his home where a beach party is in progress. Because it is filmed from inside the house, the words exchanged between the pair cannot be heard, but we quickly find out the import of his response. Taryn angrily stalks into the house and slashes away at a painting hanging on the wall.

Seeking escape and solace, she travels to the Baltimore home of Kim (Kim Taylor Coleman) and Bill (Ned Oldham), her aunt and uncle, two musicians, though Bill has left the profession for a more steady-paying job in business. Kim is not at home when Taryn arrives, so it falls to Bill to inform her that the two are heading for a divorce. Taryn has arrived at a terrible time for them, but they are her aunt and uncle, so they do not tell her to bug off. A more mature woman, not in reat pain herself, would have left then and there.

The rest of the film deals with the fall-out from the divorce and how each of them, plus the couple’s daughter Abby (Hannah Gross), try to cope with the tension and turmoil that ensues. Taryn and Abby once had been close cousins, but when Abby drops out and returns home from college, the relationship between the two becomes strained. Taryn’s seeking support from her aunt and uncle leads to Abby’s feelings of neglect and even a bit of jealousy.

The film’s title comes from a song by Bill Callahan, which begins with words that describe well the four characters:

“I started out in search of ordinary things
How much of a tree bends in the wind
I started telling the story without knowing the end

I used to be darker, then I got lighter, then I got dark again

Something to be seen was passing over and over me…”*
Songs—a couple of times sung completely by the characters–are used well in the film, Bill and Kim able to articulate their feelings better through their music than through conversations. Taryn also has trouble expressing her plight: she does not reveal at first her condition to her aunt and uncle, and she resists for a long time cousin Abby’s insistence that she call the mother she has not talked with for so many months.

All these hurting people are typical of those shaped by our secularized society, none of them apparently retaining a faith akin to the psalmist that wouldserve them well in troubled times. The writers of the Psalms also went through the darker side of life, in some cases almost giving in to it (see Ps. 73), but they were connected through their faith to a greater Reality than themselves.

Kim and Bill were once bound together by their music, but when he gave up because they never became successful enough to pay the bills, they obviously drifted apart, Kim struggling to keep her band going and finding in it a new man to love. I suspect that Taryn has cast aside the Catholicism of her native Ireland because she has found it as smothering as the mother she has been so reluctant to call. Although the four do find some minor consolation and strength to get on with their lives, I wonder how much more freedom and joy they might encounter if they had but a pinch of the faith of the psalmist.

*Click for the lyrics to “Sometimes I Wish I Were an Eagle” 

 The full review with a set of questions for reflection or discussion will appear in the December issue of Visual Parables, which will be available late in November.


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