What does it mean in the end to own the world but lose your soul? What good do possessions serve us if we lose our minds in the process of possessing them?
Such questions and more are posed in “The House of Sand and Fog”, a wrenchingly bitter film of raw determination. It turns the notions of appearances and justice upon their near-sighted heads.
Case in point: A young woman named Kathy, played by Jennifer Connelly, has lost her husband, and in the process of grieving, her father’s house as well. Just when you thought Connelly might be over her tragic character phase (“Requiem for a Dream” anyone?), she’s back with even more spiraling Grecian character faults. It’s astonishing to see her certain inevitability here, that blindness of depression that completely envelops her judgment.
This stubbornness also enwraps another party. The Behranis are an Iranian immigrant family that have purchased her foreclosed house on the auction block. Kathy and her patriotic cop friend Lester (Rod Eldard) see them as wealthy foreign vultures, swooping in to profit from her miserable misfortune.
Yet they don’t see the Behranis’ own history of grief. Fleeing like refugees from a hostile Iran, Colonel Behrani now works several menial jobs to support their once posh lifestyle. (“You may fear living like an Arab, but I don’t want to work like an Arab either.”) His sense of duty to his family is unshakable, but how much more is his dogged sense of entrepreneurialism? He explains the victimhood of the West to his son in clinical fashion:
“Americans they do not deserve what they have. They have the eyes of small children who are forever looking for the next source of distraction, entertainment, sweet taste in the mouth.”
Likewise, the domineering patriarch that is Colonel Behrani can’t see, until far too late, the hurt and guilt in Kathy’s wildly aimless attempts to reclaim her house. The remorse of squandered potential and lost legacy is summed up in a confession to Lester: “My father spent 30 years paying for this house. I screwed it up in 8 months.”
This house is the center of all these misconceptions, a simple run-down building in need of a paint job and new carpet. Overlooking the ocean yet encroached by fog, one gets the dual images of a vastness of opportunity with the incessant blindness of misperception. This dichotomy glooms over the entire film, and the house of their collective lives seems built upon the sand.
“The House of Sand and Fog” is an exhausting but powerful film and asks some very big and important questions. What is really important in life? Is property the real point to all of this? Or is a modest home more valuable? Isn’t family more important than the brick and mortar? The fog is ethereal and will clear in time. But the sand is permanent and unfit for foundation. Oh, that our own houses, our lives, be built on the right footing.