Directed by Nicholas Ray, Bigger than Life exposes the limits of the “American dream” and the suburban malaise that deconstructed the nuclear family in the 1950’s. If there was ever an image from Ray’s visual repertoire that represented suburban disillusionment, it would be this month’s shot. The shot, which plays up the film’s domestic horror tendencies, is beyond demonstrative. With this one shot alone, we inherently know that happiness is merely a fairy tale promised in the wake of a post war world. Ray’s harsh lighting exposes the level of despair on the face of a family that is eroding into oblivion. Mother and son cower in the wake of their patriarch, a formidable man who intends to resurrect his stalled life and maintain his cortisone addiction, even if it holds his family hostage. The shadows, which find James Mason’s character towering over his meek, disheveled family, are shades of a callous future. Their sharp edges cut deep, irrevocable grooves that paralyze a family that was simply looking to live the dream.
Cinematographer: Joseph MacDonald
Director: Nicholas Ray