In a world of franchise concepts, we wonder where things originate. Art in our society becomes not just about now, but how we got to now, was there a purer time, a place where all antecedents come from,. What does home look like now is a question most fictive worlds try to answer. The adaptation of Stephen King’s novella 1922 offers an interesting inversion of the pastoral ideal and the city as a place of industrialism. Usually the bildungsroman offers us the pastoral everyman who loses his soul coming to the city. The rural ideal is spoiled by the draw of the city and the overwhelming power of capitol, Zak Hilditch’s 1922 instead offers a man Wilfred James (Thomas Jane) that schemes to kill his wife in order to keep her from selling the farm. Throughout the movie, the symbol of the rat is used to refer to the creeping ugliness that infiltrates Wilfred’s soul. As he scribbles a confession in a hotel room the rats gnaw through the walls. Wilfred’s journey is not from innocence to experience, but from the dark reaches of greed and murder to remorse.
Early in the movie, Wilfred is angered that his wife Arlette (Molly Parker) wants to move to the city and open a dress store. He thinks she’s foolish for trying to steal away what he considers a right. The obvious sexism of this idea, that somehow a woman didn’t have the right to want something different is one kernel of the context, quite another is the inversion of the idea of the greedy husband who wants riches and will kill for them. Wilfred doesn’t want money, but rather a space that will be his own, the farm becoming a manifestation of freedom.
Gradually corrupting his son, Wilfred finds that after his wife is dead that the rural idea is overrun with those symbolic rats. Suddenly the threat comes from the corporation wanting to buy up his land, making his farm a part of a rendering plant. The corruption of his son, who eventually runs away and begins holding up banks further indicates Wilfred’s descent. Wilfred’s son Henry James (Dylan Schmid) begins robbing banks, both a symbol of a Robin Hood-like freedom and the notion that he is disrupting the thing that destroyed his previous life, that of capital. One can’t help, but look at the character name of Henry James, the ex-pat author whose incisive interior novels juxtaposes Wilfred’s son, whose interior process is played out on the surface, a man-child who eventually decides to kills his own mother, repudiate his father and eventually ends his adult life the way he began it, with violent death. Wilfred by the end of the movie has not lost his soul, but gained perspective. While he jots down his confession, we here the rats scratching in the walls. Trying to keep his freedom, striving to own his own destiny, Wilfred finds that he’s robbed himself of all that was valuable, including most importantly the freedom of his conscious. With the rats breaking through the hotel wall, Wilfred turns to confront the animated corpses of his wife, son, and his lover. They are grotesque expressions of the people Wilfred used to know, people mutated into the monstrous projections of his own conscious. The corpses hold knives and warn him that dying won’t hurt for long. This is cold comfort for Wilfred, who’s already scared and beaten by his own ambition. 1922 as a title offers a finite time, it describes the vegetable cycle of planting and harvest. For Wilfred the reaping comes in stark terms, the loss of everything valuable, including the good man that was once inside him. In 1922 we see a man trying to create a notion of freedom for himself and ending up in bondage.