“Who hasn’t had the impulse to put their life on hold for a moment?” This is the question “Wakefield” asks. And it’s true, we’ve all thought about leaving our lives, taking a break, walking out on everything and never looking back. These are usually just passing thoughts, however, and not actual actions being taken. In the film, that’s exactly what happens though. “Wakefield” is a stunningly introspective film and well-executed. The movie allows its main character to find himself, but remain tethered to the character traits that haven’t gone away despite the several epiphanies he ends up having.
Written and directed by Robin Swicord, “Wakefield” follows Howard Wakefield as he narrates his own journey to becoming self-aware through alienation. A litigator who is good at his job, Howard decides to exit his life in a literal sense and turns into a bystander, hiding out in the attic of his garage. From its window, Howard is able to watch over his wife, Diana (Jennifer Garner), and his twin daughters in a way that allows him to become far more involved than he ever has been in their lives.
What’s more fascinating than Howard exploring his own actions, life, and personality traits, is watching Diana through his eyes. She transforms from a woman tied to a man who occasionally dictates to her what she should and shouldn’t do and runs rampant with jealousy, to a grieving widow, to someone who’s bounced back and has reconnected with her old dreams. Granted, we’re watching her through Wakefield’s eyes and perspective, and it’s quite unfortunate that we are left to be bystanders to Diana’s life without being an integral part of it. We don’t get to see her voice her concerns or speak unless she’s in a flashback with Howard. However, it strikes me as intriguing to see her develop and get to a stage that Howard, despite being a bystander to his own life, never quite reaches.
“Wakefield” is very aware of what it’s doing. Cranston’s character even asks the audience if we think he’s playing some sort of game. His self-inflicted exile is seen not as rejection of his family, but rather as a rejection of himself. Howard comes to several realizations, some he has always known but never acknowledges. But the question is less about what he has learned from becoming his life’s spectator and more so about whether he can even go back to the life he left. It’s most enthralling to watch him deconstruct his life as his perceptions shift and change. And since everything is told from his point of view, his personal assessments are tainted by his bias and insecurities, and also by the need to victimize himself.
“Wakefield” touches a lot about ownership and choices. Possession of oneself, possession of material things, and possession of other people. In Howard’s case, he feels like he’s possessive in that jealousy and competition fuel him and have fueled him in every major life decision. He mentions at one point that even Diana’s choices aren’t her own and that he manipulated the entire situation to work in his favor. But despite his newly acquired knowledge, it never seems like Howard changes for the better as he continues to be fueled by the same feelings which lead him to his predicament.
Robin Swicord delivers a fascinating and introspective look at a man’s self-examination. Stripped of everyday conveniences and of social and physical connection to the outside world, Howard stands at a precipice, although it never seems like one he’s completely willing to go over. The film is driven by Cranston’s great and nuanced performance, while Garner does a wonderful job being emotionally and facially expressive despite not having many speaking lines. The exploration of the self in the way it’s presented in “Wakefield” is both brave and daunting to watch at times, but the journey, minus the conclusion, is certainly worth it.
The exploration of the self in the way it's presented in "Wakefield" is both brave and daunting to watch at times, but the journey, minus the conclusion, is certainly worth it.