The Ballad of Jack & Rose (2005)


“We should never have let the world in.”

The Ballad of Jack and Rose is drama film written and directed by Rebecca Miller, and starring her husband Daniel Day-Lewis. It tells the beautiful tale of a very stong relationship between a father and daughter.

It also stars Camilla Belle (who was also in an incestuous film called  The Quiet) who can her own against the superb Daniel Day-Lewis. Shockingly (for a film buff) this is only my second encounter with DDL. The only other film I saw him in was Gangs of New York, and that was so long ago I barely remember it. But seeing him in this has made me want to watch all his films, he has won me over! I;m sorry but he looks quite sexy in this!

The Ballad of Jack and Rose (Titantic anyone?) is an unusual, offbeat, thoroughly “indie” movie, and it’s definitely worth seeing for the contrast of typical Hollywood nothingness.


The film tells the story of an environmentalist and his teenage daughter who live alone on a secluded island commune (the perfect setting for an incestuous relationship no?) Nothing lasts for ever, and here it’s Jack’s failing health and Rose’s growing up that threaten the innocent nature of their relationship. It takes an in depth look at Jack’s attempt to patch up his way of life that is now falling apart, much like the commune house itself.

Scared that he starts to have feelings for his daughter, who has taken on more of a wife role since her mother died, Jack decides to bring in to live with him a woman he sometimes sleeps with when he goes to town (Kathleen). Rose thinks she is being replaced and takes on a new found sexuality trying to sleep with both of her sons, eventually loosing her virginity to one. She then hangs the bedsheets outside and writes on it “an experiment,” much like he told her the living arrangement would be. He is angered that someone has “ruined” her and eventually gets in a fight with the son who gets severely injured. A copperhead snake is also symbolic throughout the film, and we learn that Rose put one in the house in hopes of killing Kathleen. Before long Jack wants it to be just him and Rose again. That leads to a kiss (well who could resist Daniel?) and he begs God to forgive him. Jack realizes how easily his relationship with his daughter could slip into incest. His daughter loves him, but she also shows signs of being in love with him. She is so merged with her father that she would rather die than face life alone without him; life on her own is unimaginable. He tears down the model home she has been living in since the fight, a constant symbol of the future and moving forward that is present throughout the film.


The music by Michael Rohatyn also adds another layer to the film, with each choice of music being perfect to fit each scene. The film opens with the song I Put a Spell on You,  an apt metaphor for what can happen when a daughter becomes “enchanted” by too much closeness with her father. As a result, she may have problems in her relationships with men later on in life. Kathleen tries to make Jack see what is really going on between him and his daughter, saying, “You raised her so she couldn’t love anyone else.”

When Jack dies in bed at home, Rose prepares their home as a huge funeral pyre for both of them. She lies down beside him after she starts the house on fire. In the end she chooses life; she leaves out the window, and sails off towards the mainland. The film ends two years later, showing Rose working in a “collective,” potting plants, silent and solitary. Even though she chose life, we are left wondering if hers is going to be a half-life only, without the part of herself that may have died along with her father, or if she will be able to grow beyond her emotionally incestuous relationship with him.

This is the type of film that you will either love or hate. I thought it was a beautiful film. I heap praise for this quirky bit of avant-garde film-making. Rebecca Miller takes a thought provoking look at the situation and doesn’t flinch at tackling uncomfortable themes. Although I didn’t think it was that provocative. Overall, it’s a touching and intense look at the bond between a father and daughter who have a very deep and complicated relationship. Rose’s and Jack’s many emotions are shown on their faces, a testament to the actors.  Miller should be congratulated for making us care for what will happen to Jack and Rose and for the magnificent performances she got from her cast.

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Categories: Father/Daughter, Film | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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