To Sleep With Anger (1990)
A slow-burning masterwork of the early 1990s, writer/director Charles Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger is a singular piece of American mythmaking. In a towering performance, Danny Glover plays the enigmatic Southern drifter Harry, a devilish charmer who turns up out of the blue on the South Central Los Angeles doorstep of his old friends. In short order, Harry’s presence seems to cast a chaotic spell on what appeared to be a peaceful household, exposing smoldering tensions between parents and children, tradition and change, virtue and temptation. Interweaving evocative strains of gospel and blues with rich, poetic-realist images, To Sleep with Anger is a sublimely stirring film from an autonomous artistic sensibility, a portrait of family resilience steeped in tradition and folklore.
To quote from Roger Ebert’s brilliant contemporaneous review:
At some point in every child’s life a stranger comes to the door and stands there, mysterious and threatening, until a light is turned on or a name is called out, and the stranger is revealed as a friend. That ominous moment of mystery — the dark outline, the knocking at the door from the great terrifying world — connects with an archetypal fear we all grow up sharing. Rare is the person who welcomes unexpected visitors. […]
And if the stranger does not leave? If he announces that he might stay for a day or two, and receives a hesitant agreement, and then stays for a week or two, and shows no sign of leaving? What then? At what point do the obligations of host and the loyalty to family wear thin? [… H]e is clearly unwelcome and yet no one can figure out a way to get rid of him. And the horror element comes as it begins to dawn on us, and the characters in the movie, that this man is some sort of emissary of evil. Perhaps not Satan precisely, but familiar with the neighborhood.
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