A son stands in the shadow of his domineering father and asks, “How come you ain’t never liked me?”
This powerful question lies at the heart of “Fences.”
August Wilson wrote the screenplay of this movie based on the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name. It is lovingly brought to the screen by actor and director Denzel Washington.
“Fences” focuses on Troy Maxson’s family. Troy (Washington) is a garbage man in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. He is married to Rose (Viola Davis). Their son, Corey (Jovan Adepo), asks the question.
Troy was once a great baseball player, but being black limited his play to the Negro League.
He simmers with anger about how “the white man” keeps him down. This resentment spills into every area of his life and relationships.
Rose stands by her husband, even though she does not approve of all he does. She feels that Troy is too hard on Corey and keeps the boy down.
Corey is trying hard to please his father. He is a star football player in high school, but Troy will not allow him to play because he feels that the boy needs to work. He is frustrated over his the lack of opportunity and fears that Corey may become better and greater than he.
Troy has an “outside son.” Lyons (Russell Hornsby), a child from another relationship, is a struggling musician who appears at the beginning of the movie looking for $10. Troy initially refuses, but then allows Rose to give it to him.
Within the story is another family member, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), Troy’s brother. He is the reason that Troy has a home.
Gabriel was injured in the war and is what would be said then to be simple minded. That injury brought money to Troy that was used to buy the house.
Gabriel carries an old trumpet and is chasing hellhounds that he sees but no one else sees. He does not live in Troy’s home, as he moved out to be on his own. Troy does what he can to keep his brother out of trouble.
All of this adds up to a man who feels overlooked by the world.
Troy lives in a house he did not pay for. The dreams of playing baseball were taken from him. He has nothing but a wife and a son he does not understand or even wants to understand.
He was forced to settle for less than he wanted. Those around him must settle, too, if they are to be in his world.
Corey’s question is voiced early in the movie. He wants to know why his father does not love him.
Troy wants Corey to know that love did not come in the bargain of having a child. He believes that all he owes his son is the duty and responsibility to go out and make a living.
But having a living is not enough. Corey knows this, but Troy does not.
One of the powerful scenes in the movie is when Troy declares that he does not like what life dealt him. He tells Rose it is hard to admit that he stood in the same place for 18 years. Rose quickly fires back that she stood right there with him.
I identified with Corey. Being raised by a father who could not tell me he loved me left me with questions for many years.
If you have no issues with your family of origin, then go see this movie for one reason: the acting.
This is a movie with some of the best performances of not merely the year, but the decade. Davis gives a masterful rendering of a woman who loves a man who lets her down. When Davis cries on the screen, it is true emotion pouring forth.
Of course, Washington gives a stellar performance as Troy. But his performance is grounded in the interplay between him and Davis.
Playing the force of nature that is Troy could make an actor suck up all the oxygen in the film. Washington does not; he gives so much to the other actors.
This movie calls forth the discussion needed about family-of-origin issues and how they touch and transform individuals.
The church is part of this in the movie. As Rose struggles with what it means to be married to Troy, she goes to the church for help and comfort. That is clearly a role the church can play.
If you love great acting and real drama, go see “Fences.” It is well worth the price of admission.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references.
Director: Denzel Washington
Writer: August Wilson
Cast: Denzel Washington (Troy), Viola Davis (Rose), Stephen Henderson (Bono), Jovan Adepo (Corey), Mykelti Williamson (Gabriel), Russell Hornsby (Lyons).
The movie’s website is here.