Starring: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Elizabeth
Perkins, Leo Fuchs, Aidan
Quinn, Lou Jacobi, Joan
Plowright, & Kevin Pollak
Runtime: 125 minutes
Distributor: Tri-Star Pictures
Director: Barry Levinson
Producer: Mark Johnson
Writer: Barry Levinson
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Most of the story is set in the prosperous times of post-war America, in a section of Baltimore known as Avalon (the name was chosen by the author to refer to the mythic paradise in the King Arthur legends). The late 1940s look has been painstakingly recreated to perfection. Sitting around the dinner table at Thanksgiving, the extended family members exchange memories of the brothers' inauspicious start as wallpaper hangers. When second-generation sons Jules and Izzy don't understand why the elders quibble over exact dates and details, Sam with great insight explains: "If you stop the memory, you forget."
The first-generation brothers are further confounded when salesman Jules is assaulted and robbed one day. "Money is the problem," they say. "This would never happen in the old country." Later, with the advent of television, Jules and Izzy open up a TV store. They are successful, enabling Sam's part of the family to move from their row house to the suburbs, but Sam's conscience warns him that getting further away from Avalon (here symbolic of the traditional-extended family) is not a good thing.
Thus, with the pursuit of the American dream, the demise of traditional family values begins. It is illustrated with pinpoint clarity in one scene, when the family abruptly leaves their dinner on the table to watch one of those new TV commercials. Furthermore, it is shown that with parents still living with their fully grown children (who have children of their own), there is more tension than peace in the new "nuclear" family that is emerging.
Sam attempts to keep the extended family intact by calling and presiding over "family circle meetings." Sam loves to celebrate life, from cutting the Thanksgiving turkey, to telling 4th of July stories to grandchildren on a summer night under the stars. However, life is not always celebration. The lights in the sky one 4th of July spell disaster, as the discount department store Jules and Izzy have expanded into burns to the ground.
Having resigned as the patriarchal head of the Krachinsky family, Sam eventually moves out, sighing, "One way or another we all have to leave." (The accompanying music is hauntingly simple and childlike, yet beautiful). Though the life of Sam's wife is shown to be rich and full, the turnout at her funeral is low; as he laments, "This is not the family."
Finally, Sam resides in an old folks home, alone. His grandson, Michael, and great-grandson come to visit him. "I came to America in 1914," he begins. "It was the most beautiful place I'd ever seen." Tellingly, the great-grandson is captivated by a TV program, hearing just the funny accent, rather than the words of one who is speaking truth from the heart.
A powerful scene about the influence of TV, it's just one of many that communicate like messages. "I thought it would be interesting to show the evolution of a family over a 50-year period and show how the family structure changes and the extended family disappears," says writer/director Barry Levinson. "I grew up living with my grandparents and parents, and there were aunts and uncles who came through the house all the time. There was a real sense of family, but now that's part of vanishing America."
"We are at a crossroads," Mr. Levinson continued, "which in fact may lead to the complete breakup of the family structure in America. 666 Remember the old idea that you would bring shame on your family if you did certain things? Do you ever hear it anymore?"
"For thousands of years, people lived in an extended family," Mr. Levinson notes. "You could turn to an uncle or aunt. There were people around; there was support in times of trouble and tragedy. The children could learn from their elders. There was real education. Now people say to the schools and to the police, 'You take care of everything.' The family, the individual is no longer responsible."
There is also the warning in AVALON not to let petty, childish things cause rifts that lead to family break-ups, like Sam not waiting on Thanksgiving to carve the turkey. Such things over time cause the size of the dinner table to shrink, with the TV becoming the most important guest.
AVALON is an extremely enlightening and entertaining movie to behold, reflecting a time when news of a pregnancy was good news. There's great honor for America in Sam's stories. Sam also places an equally as great value upon his family and heritage. Subsequently, when Jules and Izzy announce they've "Americanized" the Krachinsky name, Sam in a fit of anger shouts a profanity (G-d!). These three profanities, six minor obscenities (i.e.: "hell") and a couple of "For God's sake" comprise all that may even be considered to be offensive.
Though this slice-of-life, nostalgic look at three generations of an immigrant family pursuing the American dream is overwhelmingly pro-family, there is a noted absence of God from their lives. Although they attempt to obey the Law by honoring parents and condemning adultery, they need to know Him and His salvation. Even so, AVALON is a very encouraging and entertaining message to the families of America.
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AVALON is an extremely enlightening, entertaining movie, reflecting a time when news of a pregnancy was good news. There's great honor for America and an equal value placed on family and heritage. Some light foul language comprise all that may be considered offensive. MOVIEGUIDE® advises caution for older children.