At the heart of August: Osage County, directed by John Wells, is an ugly metaphor for what ails the Weston family. We learn soon enough that Violet (Meryl Streep), the clan’s matriarch and Lunar symbol, is terminally ill with cancer of the mouth, the body part which takes in food and nourishment. In this case, though, the family that eats together – and they do – inevitably devours each other through Plutonian power mongering, retaliation and revelation of deeply held secrets. In short, the movie asks us to watch the multi-faceted death (Pluto) of a family (Moon). As Violet says, more dragon-like than she realizes, “My tongue is on fire.”
What precipitates all the dining is an incident involving Beverley (Sam Shepard), the Weston patriarch. His leave-taking has brought family members together, ostensibly to console each other. However, the gathering fuels the sort of deeply wounding verbal, physical and emotional assaults that family members are especially adept at dishing out. And Violet – through Streep’s vanity-free performance which zeroes in on her character’s cruelty-generated wrinkles and overall lack of wellness caused by ongoing medical treatment – does venom better than anyone else in her bloodline.
Violet’s daughters all show up. Barbara (Julia Roberts), the eldest, arrives at the Weston’s Oklahoma spread with her recently declared ex-husband (Ewan McGregor) and daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin). Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is innocently trusting enough to believe that a piece of good news she’s been keeping to herself will be embraced. And Karen (Juliette Lewis) descends with her roving-eye beau (Dermot Mulroney). Also in the mix are Violet’s sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) and Mattie Fae’s husband (Chris Cooper), the parents of “Little Charles” (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose fragility almost screams to be served up on a plate.
In the end, August: Osage County, which Tracy Letts adapted for the screen from his Pulitzer prize-winning play, is a case study in the affairs of Pluto. Here everyone seems to have been dragged below the earth to participate in the myth of Persephone, the maiden kidnapped by Hades and taken to the underworld, while Demeter, her mother, mourns inconsolably. Unlike Demeter, though, Violet, who through her terminal illness is already halfway to hell, observes with full vision the Plutonian debacle she is not inclined to stop.
If there’s any stabilizing force to quell this destructive vortex, it’s Johnna (Misty Upham), the recently hired Native American housekeeper, cook and caregiver for Violet. If Violet is the mother who ravages (Pluto) her offspring (Moon), Johnna is the deceptively powerful (Pluto) nurturer (Moon) who keeps annihilation at bay.
Astrology Film Rating: ☽♇ (Moon, Pluto)