Growing Old is Frighteningly Real
Having been married once before Gene Garrison (Gene Hackman) has met someone in California and hopes to move away to settle down with her and her kids. But then there are Gene's elderly parents who live just across town and who have started to rely on him especially his proud but forgetful father Tom (Melvyn Douglas) who still treats him like he was a child whilst also making him feel guilty about wanting to move away to California. When Gene's mother Margaret (Dorothy Stickney) dies it makes life even tougher for Gene despite his sister Alice (Estelle Parsons) encouraging him to break away from their dad who years earlier disowned her when she married a Jew.
That could be me. Those were the thoughts which constantly ran through my head as I sat watching the opening of "I Never Sang for My Father" as scene after scene reminded me of what I was going through. From a scene where Gene's ageing father tells him that he is murmuring, refusing to acknowledge his own failing hearing to his father becoming increasing forgetful, repetitive and stuck in his ways whilst still treating Gene as if he was a child despite being a grown man. I could go on as scene after scene was painfully familiar from the TV being on too loud to that feeling of guilt which Gene feels when ever he thinks about breaking free to start again.
That is very much the heart of "I Never Sang for My Father", Gene wishing to remarry and start again but having to deal with the sense of guilt at what feels like abandoning his ageing parents especially with the comments which are made by his father over not leaving them. I actually think this movie may not work for those who have not been in the same situation as Gene, that anger which he feels when he is alone over how he can't have his own life whilst biting his tongue every time his parents talk to him like he is still a little kid, embarrassing him in public.
As such I have to say that Hackman's performance is astonishing, hitting every note of his character from feeling loyalty to his parents to the frustration of not being able to live his own life. But then there is Melvyn Douglas and Dorothy Stickney as his parents and the two of them hit every character note just as well as Hackman which is why watching "I Never Sang for My Father" is doubly painful as not only do you empathise with the character of Gene as he endures what you endure but you also are made fully aware of his parent's decline and how whilst some of the time you can see that his father being cunning in manipulating his son there is that obvious loss of faculties as well and the complications that means.
What this all boils down to is that "I Never Sang for My Father" is a fantastic movie especially for those who have found themselves reaching middle age and looking after elderly parents who through no fault of their own end up suffocating you with their needs.