Tod Williams’s The Door In The Floor

We don’t get enough widely released films that show how blunt, frank and confusing life can be. Every day is another hilarious tragedy wrapped in unpredictable instances of comedy, enigmatic human behaviour that can’t possibly stick to script and complexities that defy explanation. Tod Williams’s The Door In The Floor is a criminally underrated masterpiece that sort of defies description in the sense that it’s about nothing other than the lives of several people over the course of one New England summer, and what that entails. Is there sadness? You could say that. Is there comedy? Briefly, yes. It’s tough cinema, a film that deals in truths, but they are hard truths, half truths and hidden truths, ambassadors of the film’s slogan on the poster: ‘The most dangerous secrets are the ones we’re afraid to tell ourselves.’ Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger give the best work of their careers as Ted and Marion Cole, a couple haunted by the worst kind of tragedy, both unable to move on in their own way. Ted is a passive aggressive, alcoholic manipulator, Marion is an emotionally shut off shell. These are two people who in another film would absolutely have not been sympathetic characters. Not here. Ted hires sixteen year old college kid Eddie (Jon Foster) as his assistant for the summer, mainly because he lost his driver’s license. Truthfully, he does this on purpose for reasons I won’t impart here, but soon the boy and Marion are having a torrid affair with sex scenes the film doesn’t gloss over, glance away or back down from. The eerie thing is watching how the passage of time has traumatized two people not only to the point where they have become their worst selves, but also are completely unable to recover or continue on with their lives properly anymore. What’s worse, they have a four year old daughter (Elle Fanning, brilliant in an early role) who is swept up in this storm of malcontent, bitterness and broken lives. It’s not easy to watch but it never gets overly sentimental or cheats you by drip feeding emotional work that it itself hasn’t worked for or earned, there’s a naturalistic way these events play out that had me full well believing this was real, and investing everything I had into these characters. Bridges is fucking devastating here in what has to be his finest and most overlooked performance. Ted is a children’s writer (“I’m an entertainer of children, and I like to draw”) who injects pain into his work, a petty egotist whose light for life is slowly dimming. Basinger too brings us her best, she’s uncomfortably opaque yet somehow sweet and soulful, Marion is a seemingly unforgivable character that we come to feel for despite her actions, like a fallen angel. Foster is a find, it’s interesting because his brother Ben, now something of a star, was originally casted but purposefully relinquished the role to his brother as he thought him better suited. Intuitive move because he nails the roiling hormones and confused pining of adolescence to a T while still somehow appearing astute beyond his years. The supporting cast is fleshed out by great work from Mimi Rogers, Bijou Phillips, Louis Arcella and an adorable cameo from Donna Murphy, but really it’s the Bridges and Basinger show. The New England setting is a beautiful misty coastline dotted with vast country estates and windy bluffs, a picturesque yet oddly mournful locale for this tale to play out, inhabited by Marcelo Zarvos’s score that captures the grief and suffering without obviously highlighting it. David Lynch once noted in his autobiography that when approaching a character in writing, directing or performance, it’s important to remember that a person is not all one thing, there’s a multitude of emotions, feelings and impulses at play simultaneously and this results in confusing, contradictory, often self degrading and destructive behaviour that we aren’t meant to understand, but is there for us to see all the same. Williams and his actors keep that squarely in mind here and work to create human beings that feel like people in the real world, imperfections and all. I would tell you to bring a box of tissues but this isn’t the type of drama that elicits tears in an obvious way, but rather slowly, steadily and without a predictable blueprint, but bring that box anyway. Can’t recommend this highly enough.

-Nate Hill

Episode 8: Brad Bird’s TOMORROWLAND, Tod Williams’ THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR, Top Five Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger

Episode 8 is now live!  We discuss the current theatrical release of Brad Bird’s TOMORROWLAND, and our feature film of the week, Tod Williams’ THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR as well as our top five performances of Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger!  Enjoy everyone!



THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR 2004 Dir. Tod Williams – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

“Don’t ever, not ever, never, never, never, open the door in the floor.”


            Simply put, THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR is one of the best films from the previous decade.  It is small, intimate and arousing.  Set in present day in New England, the film follows a young man, Eddie, who is set to graduate from a prestigious prep school, Exeter Academy, the same school where Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges) went, and his two deceased teenage sons went as well.  The intent of Eddie’s summer is meant to be spent interning for Ted, Ted was a novelist who became a popular children’s writer, and Eddie is an aspiring writer himself.  As the summer moves along, revelations are made, tragedy, old and new are summoned, and a love affair between Ted’s wife Marion (Kim Basinger) and Eddie formulates.

This film is tough.  Pain, love, loss and isolation surface almost immediately.  Marion never got over the death of their two sons, and Ted has transformed the pain into raising their young daughter Ruth (Elle Fanning) and working on a new children’s book featuring his recurring characters, Thomas and Timothy which are hauntingly named after their two sons who died.

Film Title: Door in the Floor

            Jeff Bridges gives him most vicious and turbulent performance as Ted.  He is an alcoholic philanderer who emotionally uses people, and softly degrades them.  Basinger gives her finest performance as the broken and stoic Marion, who has never fully recovered from the loss of their two sons, and who uses Eddie sexually as a vessel to channel her pain.

There are few, but the scenes between Bridges and Basinger are absolutely beautiful.  These two characters are so broken, and everything they have been through together was only sustainable by their love for each other.  Even though it is not expressed physically, nor shown at all, you can feel how pure it is, how undying it is.

So many films are made about love, and very few can express it the way THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR does.  Pure love at times messy, filled with pain, and beautifully tragic and this film is an absolute visual and musical interpretation of that love.  The film is beautifully shot by Terry Stacey, and remarkably scored by Marcelo Zaruos.   The film’s score is as important as any other aspect of the film, it does not arbitrarily show up and is not easily ignored.  It is designed to provoke an emotional reaction in a scene of a film that is layered with joyous yet heartbreaking emotion.


            The film’s title is taken from Ted’s most famous children’s book, which upon watching him read it to an audience, and seeing the dark drawings of the book (which Bridges drew himself), it is perhaps the most intense children’s book ever written.  The film begs a question to the audience.  Have you opened your own door in the floor?  Will you open your own door in the floor?  Will you face your own desires, your fears?  Will you come to terms with the realities of everything that you love, everything that you hate?  It is simple for anyone to open the door in the floor, but not many can withstand what comes through it.