Ten Feet Tall Essay

1433 words - 6 pages

There is a significant difference between the plot of Berton Roueché's short story, "Ten Feet Tall" (1954) and of Nick Ray's adaptation of it in his movie Bigger Than Life (1956). Although both characters suffer from manic-depressive psychosis due to their cortisone drug addiction, Robert Laurence's condition is not self-inflicted. This mild-mannered character falls victim to medical malpractice as his physician prescribes high doses of cortisone, which Robert does not question because of his child-like faith of "doctor knows best". Whereas Ed Avery's domineering and impertinent character breaks loose and takes it upon himself to increase his doses, pretends to be a doctor at a pharmacy and ...view middle of the document...

Nick Ray takes a simple, cortisone plotted short story of revolutionary medical technology and gives us a horror filled, manically diseased American suburbia.
Based on the tone and style of both works, the key symbols presenting the mythology of the American suburbs are the societal conventions both families live by and the portrayal of the nuclear family. That is to say, both works illustrate an underpaid, married teacher who moonlights at a bookstore or taxi company to make ends meet. Yet these men are still living beyond their means in their struggle keeping up appearances, by purchasing brand new water heaters, luxury clothing or wanting to upgrade their car without much thought. The pursuit of suburban key symbols, financial security and material luxury, donate to Robert's and Ed's sense of failure in life.
However, the authoritarian hand visually demonstrated at the beginning of Bigger Than Life is less apparent in the plot of Ten Feet Tall. Robert's wife, Nora, is more present and independent than Ed's wife in Bigger Than Life. Nora is not only less intimidated by her husband but also not as submissive, which we observe in the story, as she constantly asks herself or questions Robert's behavior aloud. However, Robert, despite his mental derangements, gives the impression of being less of a patriarchal figure in the home. Whereas Ed's dominant, patriarchy attitude demonstrates a cruel "father knows best" suburban demeanor. The movie portrays this attitude early in the movie. Long before the cortisone addiction affects his mentality. In fact, Ed's patriarchal attitude and intimate bond of brotherhood with the principal exposes very early his authoritarian tendencies, when neither finds themselves inclined to be truthful to Ed's wife about his moonlighting The authoritarian hand, thus, exposes its "need to know basis" and "father knows best" attitude.
Without exploring the historical context of the movie and in view of Nick Ray's previous movie Rebel without Cause, it is necessary to contemplate the archetype symbol of Ed's and Robert's grey suit versus the infamous red jacket Ed's son, Ritchie, wears. Archetypes are, as Carl Jung illustrated, prototypes of people, behaviors, and personalities. While the grey suit portrays a self-efficient, hardworking, law abiding and distinguished patriarchal figure of society, Ritchie's red jacket violates all societal conventions. It symbolizes laziness, juvenile delinquency, law breaking, and dependency to conservative male figures. However, unlike the father/son conflict in Rebel without a Cause, both Ed and Robert become exasperated with their sons and consider taking action. On the other hand, in a hyper religious and psychotic state, it is only who Ed experiences an obligation to murder his son because of his worthlessness. This domineering patriarchal attitude demonstrates Ed's frantic delusions of educational values and pathological perfection regarding his son and his own extreme apprehension...

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