Tragedy is complicated. Guilt and anger, acceptance and forgiveness don’t fall into neat pigeonholes in Wim Wender’s EVERY THING WILL BE FINE, a title that is what everyone aspires to in this small but powerful tale of searching for redemption.
The central character is Tomas (James Franco), a good writer with a middling career and unsatisfying personal relationships whose life is upended because of an accident that changes everything. His accidental killing of a child produces in him a guilt so profound that even the forgiveness of the child’s mother, Kate (Charlotte Gainsbourg) can’t lighten Tomas’ burden. A suicide attempt prolongs his doomed relationship with Sara (Rachel McAdams) and provokes condescension from his imperious father (Patrick Bauchau). Ironically, though, his writing improves, either because of the psychic shock as Kate’s surviving son, Christopher (Robert Naylor as an adolescent) tells him, or because writers naturally grow with each book they write, as Tomas half-heartedly asserts. Whatever the reason, the death of that child creates a bond between Tomas and the mother and son that is unbreakable, even during the years that go by without any contact between them, and culminates in an enigmatic, poetic final act of aggression and healing.
Told in episodic fashion, years slip away from that first glimpse of Tomas awakening to a harshly beautiful winter morning and the urgent pressure of a half-filled notebook, to the final accord, with Tomas’ career in bloom, and a warm glow of autumn sun through flame-colored foliage and Tomas’ smile of rediscovered peace. Or, if not peace, at least the final achievement of a new normal. In between, there are explosive moments that resonate between deceptively quiet moments of exquisite visual composition. Kate’s ritual that requires Tomas’ presence. Christopher’s insistence on confronting Tomas years after the accident, to both tell him he doesn’t blame him, and that he is unable to come to terms with his memories of witnessing what happened. There is an underlying tension, in the irony that Kate’s gentle voice and gentler heart exacerbate Tomas’ pain, or mystery in Christopher’s motives in following Tomas after the confrontation, so raw are the emotions skillfully played beneath the social conventions required. The moment when, after many years of separation, Tomas runs into Sara while at a concert with his new family, plays on dual tracks, the polite small-talk, the unspoken recriminations, and the moment when the two merge with a swift, visceral resolve that is catharsis for both parties.
EVERY THING WILL BE FINE is a sharply observed psychological drama that takes time to focus on small, but not insignificant, moments of high emotion. A tone poem as much as a narrative story, it ponders questions that may not have any right answer, needs that may not have any remedy, and the power of surrendering to both those propositions in order to move forward.