Thursday, September 21, 2017

Chance's Corner: Bigger Than Life Review

Caution! This nuclear family is in the middle of meltdown!

Ed Avery (James Mason), the core of the Avery nuclear family, suffers a complete collapse due to hardening veins, but his family doctor may have a solution to ease his pain and prolong his life - the "miracle" drug called cortisone. It's still in the experimental phases, though, so the side effects are relatively unknown - other than a few bouts of depression. Under close supervision, Ed is administered varying dosages of cortisone at the hospital to see how strong of a dosage he needs to relieve his pain, which takes place during one of the greatest and most informative graph montages ever conceived. Once the right dosage is found, Ed is released to return back to his loving wife, Lou (Barbara Rush), and his son, Richie (Christopher Olsen).

Just one more pill...
Ed has never felt better in his entire life. He's spry as a schoolboy and he picks up the habit of tossing around the ole pigskin with his son - a pigskin that once sat deflated on the fireplace mantle. Ed becomes a little too gung-ho, though, and starts spending money he just doesn't have, much to his wife's dismay. After an argument that ends with a mirror being shattered (not by Ed!), Ed has an emotional breakdown and decides that he only needs to up his cortisone dosage to solve his emotional problems. Oh brother...

Even Ed's shadow looms over his wife and son.

Once Ed becomes addicted to the cortisone tablets, his life spirals completely out of control. He calls his students morons in front of their parents during an open house meeting, he harasses the milkman for "intentionally" making the glass bottles "jingle jangle", he turns football into torture for his son, and he thinks he is intellectually superior - hence the title Bigger Than Life. Ed remarks that he feels ten feet tall after getting out of the hospital. The camera seems to agree, as a low angle makes him appear taller than the school he teaches at. His best friend, Wally (Walter Matthau), punctuates the point by saying that Ed has become a big shot - "he even looks bigger!"

Lou argues that it's only the pills that's making her husband say and think such ugly things, but I disagree. Before his collapse, Ed remarks that everyone he knows is dull, and the travel posters plastered on every wall in the house reflect his desire for a bigger and better life. The cortisone injections may have driven Ed to become a homicidal maniac, but every "superior" thought, every annoyance, was just festering inside of him from the get-go as that silent voice in his head that he always told to shut up. Lou is quick to forgive, but I wouldn't be, especially after he came after me and my son with a pair of scissors. Director Nicholas Ray tries to paint a picture of hope at the end, but the doctors point out that Ed will have to continue taking cortisone if he wishes to live. Ed, Lou, and Richie may be hugging each other at the end, but I bet Lou's telling a very terrified voice inside her head to shut up.

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