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Film / Affliction

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Affliction is a 1997note  American drama film written and directed by Paul Schrader, adapted from the 1989 novel by Russell Banks.

Lawford is a tiny town in New Hampshire's Great North Woods. It's so small it has just one part-time police officer, Wade Whitehouse (Nick Nolte). While Wade is well-liked, everyone knows he's hit a rough patch in his life. He lives alone in a trailer home, drinks on the job, and is going through a bitter divorce and custody battle for his young daughter with his wife Lillian (Mary Beth Hurt). Wade is also haunted by memories of his childhood, when he suffered horrible physical and verbal abuse from his father Glen (James Coburn). He is still close to his brother Rolfe (Willem Dafoe), a history professor at Boston University who also narrates the story. Wade plans to marry his girlfriend Margie (Sissy Spacek) once his divorce goes final.


Lawford gets shaken up when a union boss from Boston goes deer hunting with Wade's friend Jack Hewitt (Jim True-Frost) and dies in an accidental shooting. When Rolfe suggests the death might have been murder, Wade does some investigating of his own and starts to suspect that Jack pulled the trigger as part of a plot involving some prominent people in town. But Wade's personal life goes into further turmoil when his mother dies and he has to start taking care of his father, who's gotten older but is still the same Jerkass who tormented Wade when he was growing up.

Coburn's performance as Glen was universally praised and ultimately earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.


This film contains examples of:

  • The Alleged Car: After losing his job, Wade can't afford to have his transmission repaired, so he drives around in his father's old, rusted truck.
  • Abusive Parents: Glen Whitehouse hit, taunted and intimidated Wade and Rolfe constantly when they were boys.
  • Actor Allusion: When the Whitehouse family is gathered for their mother's funeral, Rolfe talks to his sister Lena, who's now a born-again Christian. She asks him if he's been saved and if he's accepted Jesus in his life. Rolfe is played by an actor who played Jesus in a film written by the director of this film.
  • Accidental Murder: In the climax Wade hits Glen with a gun, then pulls the trigger, but the gun's empty. But the blow ends up killing Glen anyway.
  • Age-Appropriate Angst: Jill, Wade's daughter, might seem whiny and ungrateful, but she's obviously stressed-out from dealing with her father and his screwed-up life.
  • The Alcoholic: The most obvious shared trait of Wade and Glen.
  • Asshole Victim: Glen Whitehouse. It's hard to feel much sympathy for him when the unhinged Wade finally snaps and bludgeons him to death, especially after the years of verbal and physical abuse Wade suffered at his hand as a kid.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Wade, egged on by his brother Rolfe, becomes this. He's convinced that Twombly's death in a hunting accident was actually a murder devised by wealthy developers to hide their own financial improprieties and take over the town. There was absolutely no evidence that Twombly's death was anything but accidental.
  • Delayed Narrator Introduction: Rolfe narrates from the beginning, but doesn't appear on-screen until about halfway through, and even then it's only for a couple scenes.
  • Dirty Old Man: Glen's interactions with Margie show him to be one.
  • DIY Dentistry: Wade suffers from a bad toothache throughout the story. He eventually reaches the point where he pulls out the tooth with pliers, using whiskey as an anesthetic.
  • Downer Ending: Though Rolfe warns us at the beginning that the story will end with Wade committing crimes, it's still a bit of a shock to see him go off the deep end.
  • Drinking on Duty: Wade in his patrol car.
  • Extreme Doormat: Wade sees himself as this, for trying to be nice with his vindictive ex-wife after the divorce and for doing menial jobs for Gordon Larivier.
  • From Bad to Worse: The trajectory of Wade's life in the film. He starts out as a troubled but basically likable and decent man trying to do his best, but becomes increasingly unhinged as his life slowly unravels.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Glen believes that women need to know their place, and those women who don't need to be put in their place with physical and verbal abuse.
  • Hollywood Atheist: While not stated to be an atheist explicitly, Glen has nothing but disgust and contempt towards his born-again Christian daughter and son-in-law, calling them "Jesus freaks."
  • Hollywood New England: Set in a location (northern New Hampshire) that's not really commonly portrayed or stereotyped, so this is averted.
  • I Own This Town: Gordon LaRiviere, who owns the well-drilling company Wade works for, and has his hands in lots of other things around Lawford.
  • Jerkass: Glen Whitehouse. His main pastimes are drinking and treating everyone like dirt, and age has not mellowed him one bit.
  • Like Father, Like Son: As the story goes on, we see that Wade inherited his father's self-destructive tendencies.
  • The One Who Made It Out: Rolfe left Lawford and lives in Boston, though he still talks on the phone with Wade all the time.
  • Run for the Border: At the end Wade kills Jack, steals his truck, and drives to Canada.
  • Senior Creep: Glen is just as intimidating as a senior citizen as he was when he was younger.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Wade is foul-mouthed, but Glen and LaRiviere practically use cuss words as punctuation.
  • Snow Means Death: Set in a snowy New Hampshire autumn, with several deaths over the course of the story.
  • Survivor Guilt: Glen's one moment of humanity is when he cries and says he should've froze to death instead of his wife.
  • The Teetotaler: Rolfe, obviously in response to his family's troubles with alcohol.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Zig-zagged in a fascinating way. Rolfe's narration in the final scene reveals that we've been seeing the majority of the story from Wade's mentally unstable perspective. The film seems to be pointing to the hunting accident being a murder related to some shady dealings on LaRiviere's part, like Wade suspects. But Rolfe informs us that the murder plot was all in Wade's imagination.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Holmes Osborne gives LaRiviere a hard-to-place accent. Likely intended to be New England French, but it sounds more Cajun than anything else.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: The climax. After Wade hits his own daughter, Glen congratulates him for finally acting "like a man." Wade realizes that he's become exactly like his father, and this starts a protracted altercation that ends in Glen's death.
  • You Are What You Hate: Wade hates his abusive, alcoholic father, partly because he knows he shares some of the same traits. By the end of the film, he becomes a younger clone of his father in every respect, down to the same mannerisms and tics.