“The Nest,” written and directed by Sean Durkin (yes, son of Sooke’s notorious resident Timothy Durkin) features Jude Law as household patriarch Rory O’Hara, Carrie Coon as Rory’s wife Allison, Oona Roche as (step)daughter Samantha and Charlie Shotwell as the bio son, Ben. On the surface and in the opening scenes, the viewer is treated to images of a picture-perfect family almost worthy of the sitcom Happy Days.
Husband lovingly wakes up wife every morning with a bedside cup of coffee, and coos gentle words of happiness in her ears.
Husband plays outside with children in the pool-side back yard. Laughter abounds.
Idyllic indeed. Except for this one tiny little fact: There’s not one lasting happy thing about it.
The Nest is a slow-moving depiction of the O’Hara family in the 1980s headed by Rory, a con-artist fixated on rapidly acquiring the wealth he feels Life somehow owes him. Entitlement runs deep. While he’s not connected to his own family of origin, he’s very attached to projecting an image of being the head of an intact, loving family. The movie opens with this loving husband and father, a cosmetic projection that fades from view. There’s a jarring reunification with Rory’s own mother whereupon she learns she’s a grandmother … to a 10-year-old (the stepdaughter is never mentioned). While Rory’s mother has no interest in getting to know her new-to-her grandson, there’s an undertone that suggests this is not a mommy-dearest disorder but rather that the son is on a cold-cash fishing expedition, and mom has been down this road once or twice before. By the film’s end, one is left with the distinct impression that Rory’s only warm passion is money.
His wife, Allison (played by Carrie Coon), presents as the hesitant-yet-compliant wife who ideologically struggles to break away from her husband while simultaneously upholding the facade. She only seems to speak to her truth when she’s protected by a public setting. Yet, she is clearly complicit. She defers all financial matters to her husband (in the film it is explained as the 80’s wifely thing-to-do just as your mother did before you) and she outwardly appears to trust her husband. Yet, Allison also has a secret stash of cash, she doles out a small allowance to her husband after their bank account is drained, and she fails to tell her husband that she is a manual labourer at the farm next door. Not an easy job to mask. The distrust between husband and wife thickens as the movie goes on, where each seems to know the other is lying, and both remain committed (albeit it to different degrees) to the public image of presenting as a functional couple. (This, too, unravels.) Their only coping mechanism appears to be the consumption of alcohol.
The movie’s synopsis kindly references Rory as an entrepreneur, but that’s either a gross oversight or a gentle kindness. He is not interested in start-ups. He’s the guy who shows up and wants to get in on the game, with neither effort nor money on the table, and expects that his connections and persuasive abilities will ultimately give him that final payday.
Rory and Allison have two children: Samantha (Oona Roche), who is later revealed as Allison’s daughter from a former relationship, and Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell), who is Rory’s birth child. Each struggle with typical uncomplicated teenage crises. Sam, rescued from being raised by a single mother thanks to the knightly saviour Rory, deals with standard teenage rebellion: smoking, drugs, alcohol, and poor friendship choices. While mother Allison has some awareness of Sam’s struggles, patriarch Rory is completely oblivious. The younger Ben and only birth child of Rory struggles between his hug-flinging affection for his father and bearing witness to the deep heavy entrapment of his mother. Ben quietly suffers schoolyard bullies because he doesn’t want to hurt his mom, and deals with unknown demons in his darkness.
A viewer might get the sense that young Ben provides much of the narrative lens.
If you’re looking for an autobiographical understanding of Sean Durkin’s family (he is the son of Timothy Durkin recently found “deceitful and dishonest in virtually all his dealings” with the owners of the Sooke Harbour House, see this SPN article), there are parallels. Sean, born in 1981, would have been close to Ben’s age. Sean was also no stranger to frequent long-distance moves (born in Canada, raised in England, moved to Manhatten at 12). The fictional Rory is a scam artist with an extremely high sense of entitlement who shows up with low-to-no capital (financial or sweat-equity) and demands what he ultimately comes to view as his “fair share.” Like Rory, Timothy Durkin has two children, a biological son and a daughter from his wife’s first relationship. Rory completely lacks empathy and is emotionally unresponsive to everything beyond his own personal entitlements. But where the fictional Rory presents as a continually failing scam artist, one could look at Timothy Durkin and see a number of so-called successes (a Ponzi scheme for which several of his partners went to jail but Timothy Durkin absconded and relocated in Sooke, BC) and near successes (Timothy Durkin lived for years as the manager and self-proclaimed owner of the Sooke Harbour House, and as was revealed at his recent lawsuit against the owners of Hotel, his wife assumed a managerial position that paid quite well).
A review by Eric Hillis in the Movie Waffler also considers the possible autobiographical nature of this film (as does the Rolling Stones review), noting that Sean Durkin at 12 was also uprooted him for a move from scenic Surrey to Manhattan (the near-reverse happens in the movie).
The review in the Rolling Stones magazine recommends you “see it with someone you loathe.”
The Nest is playing at Capitol 6 in Victoria until Thursday, October 1, 2020. Details here.