Long Day's Journey Into Night ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Long Day's Journey Into Night is not an easy nor an accessible watch. It takes no pains to transform itself from a stage play to the screen. But everyone in this dysfunctional family reveals qualities about the human condition and that is extremely my jam, but ymmv.

Long Day's Journey Into Night's closest cousins are Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf and August: Oswage County. O'Neill's style is long rants of disturbed characters talking through their insanity. The fact that the patriarch is a has been Shakespearan actor who bought the rights to his big hit and then couldn't get out of his shadow had me listening to the sounds of the words more paired together than their meaning. The atmosphere is a bit like that Twilight Zone episode where everyone's worried about the boy who can control everything. The atmosphere is tense and it's hard to tell what's going on. You sense a lot of deeply fucked up power dynamics between the mother, father, and two brothers, but it's hard to know exactly what is wrong for the first hour or so. It's clear that these two boys are deeply stunted man children from the get-go. I'm sure Long Day's Journey Into Night makes a great rewatch once you know.

SPOILERS follow from here on out:

Long Day's Journey Into Night feels like that episode of The Twilight Zone because everyone's afraid to leave the mother alone for an unspoken reason that turns out to be they're afraid she'll do morphine. Everyone in this family is an addict, the men to alcohol and the Katherine Hepburn's mother character to morphine, but the addictions are more symptoms for the pain that lies beneath them.

This whole family is mourning the loss of the family's second child, who died after his older brother infected him at measles at the age of 7. 7 is the perfect age to accidentally kill your sibling when it was no one's fault. A 7 year old might remember being told not to go into his baby brother's room or he might die, but he can probably also remember experiencing normal resentment to that brother on account of normal sibling rivalry, which might make you feel crushed under the weight of it for the rest of your life.

The mother only got addicted to morphine after giving birth to her third child, who's always been under the pressure to stay alive so he can replace the brother who died before he was born. When I didn't know this backstory at the beginning of the movie, I thought the mother and youngest child might have Munchausen by Proxy syndrome. It's pretty clear from Dean Stockwell's performance that the younger son knows how to use his mother's fear in his own best interest. I hilariously thought "consumption" meant death via addiction and not turburculosis for the entire movie and it made everyone's fear that young Edmund would die on consumption all the more poignant.

If ever there was a movie character that portrayed being cheap as a mental illness, James Tyrone would be that character. He's so cheap he won't even pay for decent doctors and his alcoholism may have led to a shady doctor recommendation from his addict drinking buddies. Misery loves company, you see, and when Mary is on morphine, she hands out whiskey out of guilt. James is into buying property in an effort to get rich quick that reminds one of a gambling addict.

Though Long Day's Journey Into Night is sort of grueling to get through, there is some dark comedy. My favorite gag involved the two sons and mother constantly watering down the James whiskey to disguise their drinking, or to cover up using alcohol as manipulation. My favorite scene was Mary coercing the young maid to hang out with her while she blissed out on morphine, going back in time, remembering when she first met Tyrone. You haven't lived until you've seen Katherine Hepburn writhe in a rocking chair.

The movie ends with her living in the past as well. One of my favorite lines in the play is when Mary declares that the present is the past and the future is the past too. Channeling Gray Gardens, Mary closes the show by going back before her marriage to James, when she dreamed of being a nun and a pianist. The nun at the school she went to cautioned her against it, suggesting she explore the world for a few years before deciding, leading Mary to marry James and have one of the most fucked up families I've ever seen. I pondered why this was what the show closed on, slowly backing away from the stage before zooming in on Hepburn's face so close it was more jarring than anything else. I decided that this whole family can never handle responsibility. They're constantly blaming each other for everything. It's a classic trait that goes along with addiction. So I think the end is Mary traveling back in time to escape this wretched home, but also blaming the nun who didn't encourage her to go straight into the convent for her life of regrets.