If a movie is titled Fences and its protagonist has had his dreams of being a baseball star crushed, it’s fair to consider that sport’s well known adage. To “swing for the fences” refers to players who literally aim to hit the ball over a field’s barriers, scoring a home run. That sort of physical and mental aptitude is a gift, one that Troy Maxson doesn’t possess.
Directed by Denzel Washington, with a screenplay written by August Wilson, adapting his play which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987, Fences is the story of a fractured black family who lives in Pittsburgh in 1957. The patriarch, Troy (Washington), a garbage collector who once played in the Negro Leagues, can’t let go of his failed baseball dream.
He keeps his old bat in the backyard, along with a baseball suspended from a cord, making for a homespun batting cage – a captive, bound sphere at the center; death is a fastball, he says – soaked with the sweat of failure.
He’s also been dragging his feet on the simple wood fence he’s promised to build for his wife of 18 years, Rose (Viola Davis), who keeps reminding Troy that he was already past his prime back in the day, when the sport did not welcome blacks.
Not surprisingly, there’s a disconnect within this relentless and bombastic storyteller of a man: he outwardly accepts his parental and spousal obligations while simultaneously enfolds himself in a mantle of secrecy, control and cruelty, often mocking those closest to him.
The tribe at the receiving end of his barely contained anger – archetypal Mars rules competitive sports as well as aggression – are his older son Lyons (Russell Hornsby), from an early relationship, whose jazz-music aspirations he ridicules; his younger son, with Rose, Cory (Jovan Adepo), whose own football dreams Troy has vowed to squash; and his much younger brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), who’s wartime injuries have affected him mentally and whose financial compensation by the government has enabled Troy to buy his modest home. Also in the mix is Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson), an old friend who serves as a Troy’s makeshift conscience.
Fences, as barriers, are stunning archetypes of Saturnine confinement, here representing Troy’s physical jail imprisonment years ago, his inability to break through the racial barriers of baseball and his tiny backyard parameters that hold the trapped ball: the only square footage that he can call his own, even though it was someone else’s cash funnel that bought it.
Along with the dominant Father-Son archetype – Troy’s wretched upbringing prompts him to say, about his own father, “I hope he’s dead” – are those generational sins and a feeling of impotency.
Troy is mythical Saturn-Cronus who learns of the prophecy that his own sons will overthrow him. He may buy Rose a weekly supply of potatoes and lard every Friday, but his real-life legacy is a tough meal to swallow.
Archetype: Fences. Obstruction. Restriction. Confinement. Father. Son.
Astrology Archetype: ♄ (Saturn)