Lumping several people into one social group based on their genetic code seems odd and ineffective — yet it’s the exact social dynamic of the traditional nuclear family. Different personalities and different perspectives are nearly forced to come together in order to fill societal norms with the inevitability of clashing opinions. Although at times the family lottery evokes fortune, such is not the case for Karen Guthrie and her family.
After capturing the stories of others through films and art exhibitions, filmmaker Karen Guthrie takes the bold step of telling her own story through her autobiographical documentary, ‘The Closer We Get’. After her mother, Ann, suffers from a stroke, Karen finds herself as the personal caretaker to her when her siblings are off living their busy lives. Though she takes on a considerable amount of responsibilities, her father, Ian — who has been divorced from Ann for over 15 years — re-enters their lives with what appears to be a helping hand. And while he supports Ann from time to time, he proves to bring more destruction than reparation.
‘You can’t have your cake and eat it, too,’ Ann often murmurs to Karen throughout the film. ‘But your father does,’ she follows.
The film is filled with unsettling tensions, photos, still shots and critical moments that define the Guthrie family in a light that seems unknown to them. Karen quickly tosses the audience into the thick of her family life and recent history. The immersion is immediate and overtakes the viewers, truly feeling as though the audience sits side-by-side with Karen as she feeds her mother and chats on the phone with her father. The viewers find themselves far more engaged than anticipated, wishing to yell at Karen to take more action or at Ian to neglect his egotistical ways. Feelings of frustration and concern overtake, allowing the viewer to become another sibling to Karen.
‘The Closer We Get’ is never inappropriate: it is saddening during moments of grief, amusing during lighthearted scenes and empty when Karen’s limits are tested and continually pushed. Close-ups of rain pattering on windows and mushy food for Ann cement the melancholy overtaking the Guthries, while the few angles of Karen giggling with her mother about the oddities of life project feelings of trust between the two. Tragedy falls upon the Guthries, yet they are still as human and real as any other family.
And the theme of family is what Karen understands effortlessly. Doing the best for the people she decides to care about. Unconditional love. Mothering her mother.
And understanding the obvious flaws within her family.
Courtesy of ‘The Closer We Get’, in UK cinemas 6 Nov.