Based on a true story,
Angela's Ashes is set in beautiful Ireland, though I'm sure the Irish
poor who lived there wouldn't call it that. We start off
when the boy is five or six, when his newborn sister is taken from the
world in Brooklyn. His family is forced to leave America and join
Angela's family in Ireland.
There, he leads a life of hardship, but what is most painful
is watching his father, the person who he looked up to, search heartlessly
for a job, and when he finally gets one, to drink up all the wages, leaving
his four sons without anything for food, clothing, or heat. Angela
always somehow finds something to keep them warm, and barely fed.
But she loses two more children in the process.
When he's ten years old, Frankie excels at school, and tries
to work to support his mother and brothers. His father has gone over
to England to work in the factories for World War II, but has never sent
any money back to them. But Frankie nearly goes blind while shoveling
and delivering coal, so his mother makes him stop. But it's obvious
that he is already more responsible than his father.
At sixteen, he is still living with his mother, but after they
get evicted (for burning a wall for heat, in a terrifically heartwarming
scene), they must bunk up with another man, who quickly takes Angela into
his bed. Frankie is so angry, that he has to leave. He gets
a respectable job as a telegram delivery boy, and earns more by writing
nasty letters for the local money lender.
But he has part of his father in him, too. It's terrifying
to watch him. It starts off innocently, while paying to see a friend's
sisters naked from the window, and the fights in school, running into the
theatre when nobody was looking, and fooling around with the daughter of
a telegram recipient.
But then he turns sixteen, has his first beer, and comes home
singing like his father. He scolds his mother for sleeping with the
old fat man where they used to board, and slaps her.
That's when he realizes what he's become. When the money
lender dies, he steals her money, throws her records in the river, and
buys a ticket by boat to America. He confesses all his sins to a
friar while crying in church, and suddenly feels cleansed.
There is a celebration for him the night before he leaves, and
he is finally on his way to America.
If anything, the movie was too long. But in telling the
life story of a boy, perhaps that's not long enough. In watching
his mother and father, Frankie learns that he doesn't want to be like either
of them. He has to be strong, like his mother, and have his wits,
like his father, though. But he has to do it without falling into
It's amazing what a little cleaning up will do. As a grubby
poor boy, he isn't accepted into any job. But once he gets some nice
clothing, he is accepted into society like everybody else.
It must have been terrible to grow up in Europe at that time,
without a steady income. The class distinctions, the bigotry, and
the disease made everybody think America was better. Perhaps, just
after the war, it was. But with a father who wasn't willing to keep
a job for more than a few days, and to take all the money while his wife
and kids went without, must have made people very sour.
I must mention the lunar eclipse. There were three major
things wrong with it, and only one is excusable. First, the moon
was not full. The director could have waited an extra two days to
get a full moon. That would have been so easy. As it was, the
moon was either a couple of days before or after full. Second, the
moon is almost never pitch black during an eclipse. I saw one about
ten years ago that was almost black, but even with all that dust and soot
in the air from the volcano, there was still a tinge of red on the moon.
There MUST be refraction of the red light through Earth's atmosphere.
The third point is the excusable one. A lunar eclipse takes hours
to complete. An hour for the lighter penumbral shadow, which is barely
perceptible, a couple of hours (or more) for the main shadow to cross,
a while in permanent shadow, and then repeat backwards. That would
have been difficult to do in a movie, of course, so what they showed was
for dramatic effect, and it sets the mood quite nicely. It is strange
that they showed enough knowledge to display the penumbra before the actual
shadow, but not for any of the other points above.