Snow Angels is the 2007 film from David Gordon Green, based on the novel by Stewart O’Nan. It stars Sam Rockwell as Glenn, Kate Beckinsale as Annie, Michael Angarano as Arthur, Olivia Thirlby as Lila, Nicky Katt as Nate, Amy Sedaris as Barb, Jeannetta Arnette as Louise and Griffin Dunne as Don.
This movie will be depressing to most, plain and simple. Yet it’s worth watching for those who appreciate films that allow you to feel for the characters involved, as well as those who can pick up on deeper symbolism within seemingly one-dimensional films.
The acting here is excellent, thanks to the eclectically talented cast. Rockwell is probably one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, and his role as Glenn further proves this. Angarano continues to choose his roles wisely, and has built up an impressive resume of indie-flicks so far. Most will recognize Thirlby as the best friend in 2007’s Juno, while Sedaris’ comedic side definitely complimented her role as Barb. Also featured are the underrated Arnette (Criminal Minds) and Katt (Dazed and Confused).
“We’re all part of a formation. Every person matters. Every step is anticipation of the next…If you want to attempt to explore the physical musical possibilities of making something substantial, then we must focus and concentrate. But you have to want to do it. You have to want it deep inside you…Do you have a sledgehammer in your heart?… Are you ready to live into that future?”
This is the introduction to the film that comes from Arthur’s band director (played greatly by Tom Noonan), which highly sets the tone for the film. Besides the song “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel which seems to be about meeting someone halfway in order to make love work, a sledgehammer itself is “a large hammer used for breaking rocks and driving in fence posts.” Hence, a sledgehammer is a force of power that can both secure and restrain you.
Taking place in a rural Pennsylvanian town in wintertime, this is the story of four different couples experiencing different phases in their relationship, amidst the murder of a little girl.
The main focus is on Glenn an Annie, separated high-school sweethearts whose daughter Tara is found drowned in the woods. Glenn is a former alcoholic-turned-Christian who tries to be a good father to Tara and partner to Annie despite his shortcomings, which eventually we see includes derangement and controlling behavior (towards Annie). Having sacrificed her life at a young age to make a family with Glenn and Tara, Annie blames Glenn for her current circumstances of a low-class job, an ungrateful daughter, and having to walk on eggshells around Glenn regarding her life (such as her ‘affair’ with Nate- her friend Barb’s husband).
While Glenn an Annie’s relationship is damaged beyond repair, we also witness three other couples: Arthur and Lila are in high school and are just beginning to experience the ecstasy of young, sexual love. Nate and Barb are just beginning to hit a rough patch when Barb discovers Nate’s affair with Annie. Louise and Don have grown apart, but they can’t stay separated when they remember sentimental days of youth when they were completely in love.
All of these couples represent a different stage of love, but more importantly we gather that all of these relationships started in youth/high school. Louise claims to be finished with Don until she listens to a mix-tape he sends her, an immediately grins like she has a school-girl crush as she reminisces. On Glenn’s nightstand we see a prom photo of him an Annie, as well as a car model, which seem to represent the carefree rebellion and short-lived bliss that surrounds teenage couples in high school.
When one person begins to depend on the other in a relationship, and neither has the option to leave for college or otherwise, often young couples stay together despite their different dreams and desires; this usually leads to marriage and kids in an attempt to fill each individual void. Of course some couples who marry out of high school are happy and stay that way, but Snow Angels depicts the sad truth that often if we have no other options, we’ll settle unhappily, and the inherited dream of a happy family with a white picket fence often becomes a nightmare. This is further exemplified by the introduction of fast food at the high school, and the scene where Tara rides on the spaceship instead of the elephant- the days of small-town innocence and satisfaction are over. For better or worse, high school is a place where you’ll form relationships that will affect, and possibly halt, your future.
From another angle, the film examines how the functional or dysfunctional relationships we see, whether from our parents or otherwise, affects the type of relationships we form. Arthur seems intent on never making the mistakes of his father Don, who can’t seem to make up his mind whether or not to leave Arthur’s mother. Yet we see subtly that Arthur and Lila, while happy now, could easily follow the same path as Glenn an Annie. (Annie used to baby-sit Arthur, and Arthur’s picture of their relationship stems from witnessing them as happy high-school sweethearts. We see that Arthur seems to care more about his job than schoolwork, and is content with working hard an enjoying a beer when he gets home. There are also several scenes where the frame switches from Arthur to Glenn and from Lila to Annie).
Many were disappointed or confused by the abrupt ending, but I felt it was fairly simple. Annie accepted her death because she knew her life would continue being consumed by guilt over Tara’s death. She fought back at first but seemed to have a moment of clarity when she realized that no one was to blame for her choices but herself. She was miserable for so long, an already felt dead in a sense. Glenn was obviously mentally ill, but I believe his motives stemmed from a lifetime of his own psychological neglect.. When he executed Annie, he really believed he was ‘saving’ her, and he knew that if they both stayed alive, he could not stop himself from blaming Annie for Tara’s death. When he mentions the missing rabbit for the second time, perhaps he was also blaming himself, as if, had he remembered the rabbit for the first time, things would be different. And so while the ending may have seemed unnecessarily depressing for some, I felt the fate of these characters would have been far worse had they continued living in misery.
What’s important to note are characters here who don’t seem essential, such as Glenn’s parents. There’re moments where his parents seem disconnected from him, and the imprint on the wall from his childhood that reads “ME” instead of his name suggests that perhaps he didn’t feel wanted as a child and did not feel he had any worth. Thus, in adulthood Glenn has attachment issues with the one person who did love him for a time (Annie), while he also feels close to Annie’s mother as he never had a proper mother figure. This is further exemplified by the very last scene where Glenn’s mother calls out for the family dog, instead of calling out, let alone grieving for her own son (it’s unclear whether she knew her son was dead at this point).
Some believe that Glenn actually did kill his daughter amid his delusions, in hopes of proving Annie wrong and perhaps saving his daughter from turning out like her mother. The way Glenn shouts at police when being questioned, and the fact that he was late for work supports this. In addition, when Glenn first takes Tara out, he asks her if she wants to go to the pond she loves so much, which could easily be the same pond where she’s found dead; this seems to be the same place he goes to execute Annie. Although I found Glenn sincere and related to him throughout the film, if he did kill his daughter it would make sense, as in his mind, history was repeating (a child growing up unloved).
There’s also a consistent theme of the color red. In the beginning we see the high school banner that reads, “Home of the Red Hots”; Arthur cuts his hand in the beginning and uses a red napkin to wipe it; Tara wears red overalls, an Annie wears a red vest; Glenn’s bedroom handprint is red; Lila sticks her hand in red paint. And there are plenty more instances. The color red seems to symbolize all the types of love we witness in the film: Romantic, sentimental, heartbreaking, and dangerous. This raises the question, once you have a sledgehammer in your heart, can it ever be removed?
Overall, Snow Angels is a deeply moving film that for the most part holds true to the novel. Perhaps the title is symbolic of the unseen impact the people in our life make upon our own fate.