Igby Goes Down

Igby Goes Down


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Igby is told: "You're a furious boy." He is in revolt, which is natural for a bright upper-class 17-year-old from the Eastern Seaboard, who looks on the moral corruption of his elders with a mixture of revulsion and curiosity. He hates his brother (Ryan Phillippe) for being in college, playing the game and having authority over him. He thinks Mimi (Susan Sarandon), his mother, is a selfish bitch who rages against her children because they're not babies anymore and cannot be corralled behind a green baize door.

Privilege nurtures the emotionally deprived, turning them into cannibals. Igby's clever enough to realise that education is a con trick to indulge parents and keep their offspring occupied on pointless tasks during the years when they should be tearing down the fabric that protects the rich from reality.

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Igby (Kieran Culkin) sees clearly. His father (Bill Pullman) is a deluded romantic, devoured by his wife's voracious demands, no longer capable of finding words to define inactivity. His brother looks on the world with a cold eye, extracting what he wants, discarding the vulnerable. His mother assumes a position of total domination which has evolved from an inbred assumption of superiority. Money, after all, and old money in particular, has the power to blind those who stand and serve.

Writer/director Burr Steers walks in F Scott Fitzgerald's shadow. His wit cuts through convention, creating in Igby the perfect foil. There comes a moment in a young life when all is revealed and nothing sacred. Holden Caulfield found it in Catcher In The Rye and Igby finds it, too. Being there is a kind of immortality.

"What do you do?", the overeducated Jewish girl (Claire Danes) asks.

"I'm thinking of leaving," Igby replies.

"Why aren't you in school now?"

"Sheer ingenuity."

He has the mind of a man twice his speed.

"I am drowning in assholes," he complains.

All around lies the debris of discarded lives and above it, supreme in their arrogance, those who pay the piper. Igby is not a rebel. Why fight for a lost cause? He is not a cynic, either, because he has never entirely believed. He is untouched and, being so, becomes a threat. He stands behind, snapping at the heels of sycophants with language that bites. Boys like him, who have witnessed the weakness first hand, must be silenced for fear of awakening the conscience of a generation.

As a film, this is intelligent and sophisticated. The upper-class will always be undermined by flattery and foolishness. Steers, through the eyes of Igby, exposes their secrets with the skill of a spy.

The performances are as well cut as the suits. Kieran has always been more interesting than his brother Macaulay and Igby is a defining moment for him. He's not an actor who relies on charm. He has a steely edge, an ability to pierce the pretence. He's real-like-real, not real-like-honey.

As for Sarandon, she eats Mimi for breakfast and spits her out in the street. It is a pleasure to feel the warmth of her delight, so beautifully balanced between sarcasm and strength. Pullman is hardly there, but when he is, you stop breathing, because there is so much perfection in his interpretation of a man who has lost direction. Jeff Goldblum's movements display his style and here, as the millionaire DH, he makes debonair feel sinister, while Amanda Peet hints at the self-centred destructive nature of an addict as she paints her face to meet the man who will take her away from all this.

The last word belongs to Igby. Talking to the family's pet cardinal, he enquires: "If heaven is such a wonderful place, why was crucifixion such a big sacrifice?"

Reviewed on: 12 Jun 2003
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Igby Goes Down packshot
The moral decay of American East coast aristos, as experienced by a 17-year-old survivor.
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Director: Burr Steers

Writer: Burr Steers

Starring: Kieran Culkin, Susan Sarandon, Ryan Phillippe, Claire Danes, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Amanda Peet, Jared Harris, Rory Culkin

Year: 2002

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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