‘The Nest’ is a Surface-Level Family Portrait of Melancholy in the Face of Capitalism

A still from 'The Nest'. Allison (Carrie Coon) looks at herself in the mirror, her husband Rory (Jude Law) is standing behind her. The image is a close-up view of the couple readying for a night out. It is 1980s set as you can tell by Allison's bouncy blonde curls and shoulder-pad clad blue dress. Rory wears a white dress shirt and black bow tie. He smirks at her and she has a expression of unease.
IFC Films

With isolation and the pandemic-induced economic collapse stretching across the globe, the fruits of contemporary cinema earn a second reading through the lens of how our societies are transforming. Some of 2020’s biggest cinematic foreshadowing of the fight for stimulus checks and economic relief funds was by way of the whopping success of Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite —  a film that dominated award ceremonies to a universal degree. Parasite’s critique on the depravity of capitalism is echoed in Sean Durkin’s Deauville Grand Prix recipient, The Nest. This common denominator, however, does not speak to the immense tonal and narrational differences between the two films; perhaps the line drawn between the two is simply due to a viewer’s shock to see cinema edging with a nervous finger towards a bomb that is aching to detonate. 

The Nest begins with a conventional portrait of the American dream in the 1980s: a husband, a wife, and two children — a boy and girl — living in the suburbs of New York City. As the film unravels, it reveals itself to be a far cry from that. The family undeniably orbits around the paternal figure, Rory (Jude Law), who waxes in ecstasy at the thought of monetary success — the interiority of what an American dream would look like. Rory, the English husband of Allison (Carrie Coon), an American horse trainer, is desperate to move his family from New York to London so that he could resume with the investment banking company he left twenty years prior. With stark resistance, Allison eventually gives in, and Rory brings his young son Ben (Charlie Shotwell) and teenage step-daughter Sam (Oona Roche) back to his motherland. 

When Allison and the children arrive in New York a few weeks after Rory, they are met with a castle — an actual 17th century fortress with more space and rooms than a 4-person family can bargain for. Rory uses his possessions to build a platform on which he divulges more lies about fictitious wealth that he spews to colleagues and old friends, and Allison’s uneasiness grows, wedging tension in her marriage. The kids, uprooted from their lives, are forced to adjust to schools and lives that are foreign to them, as they suffer silently in the emptiness of the house.

A still from 'The Nest'. Allison (Carrie Coon) stands at a formal function with husband Rory (Jude Law). They are both wearing black suits. Rory looks onward with a sense of satisfaction, whereas Allison looks unsure.
IFC Films

The discomfort from within the film does build, but not to the degree that one would expect in a family possessed by lies and abandon. Durkin’s plot does not take the characters far enough into conflict for the disarray bombarding everyone to be believable, perhaps due to the lack of development of the characters individually. The performances, in a way, make up for this: Carrie Coon and Jude Law give fantastic performances in a marriage that truly nobody is rooting for. It is incredibly difficult to find empathy for Rory on a surface-level, as his spending and contrived façades only burden his family more than the forced trans-Atlantic move already did. In a scene depicting Sam’s climactic character breakdown, there is little room for understanding: the audience is positioned to expect little, as Durkin only manages to depict a holistic breakdown within the family.

Where the plot fails, however, the cinematography soars. The grainy, soft matte overlay to visually transport the audience back into the 80s is incredibly tasteful, as it emphasises the temporality of Rory’s business discourse that allows his trading deals and investments to be easily accepted as a feat of the past. 

Ultimately, the story is rather blasé, but is offset mostly by Allison as she sacrifices herself to her own dismantlement. The story is one of privilege, of the middle class rejecting itself so fully as a result of pressure for the 1%. At all levels of capitalism, there is some hint of collapse. 

The Nest is available on VOD now

by Ariel Klinghoffer

Ariel K. is a bilingual Philly native transported across the Atlantic to France. She has degrees in Neuroscience and French, but is currently teaching English and experimenting with other things like film, writing, and photography. She thinks films are some of the strongest forms of activism, especially ones that construct the female gaze, and would trust her favorite filmmaker, Céline Sciamma with her life. Her favorite favorite film is Portrait of a Lady on Fire, her favorite book is Normal People, and her favorite candy is Kinder Bueno white. Twitter: @qqnenfeu. Letterboxd: @qqnenfeu

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