A Thousand Acres (1997)

Runtime: 1 hr 41 m
Language: English
Country: USA
IMDb Link:
Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse
Michelle Pfeiffer… Rose Cook Lewis
Jessica Lange…Ginny Cook Smith
Jason Robards … Larry Cook
Jennifer Jason Leigh … Caroline Cook
Colin Firth … Jess Clark
Keith Carradine … Ty Smith
Kevin Anderson … Peter Lewis

One of my favourite powerful and moving films, detailing the tragedy of child sexual abuse throughout life.

The film is an adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Jane Smiley. The story is loosely paralleled with Shakespeare’s tragedy, ‘King Lear’, for the first half of the film.  As with most film adaptations, the book is much better, but this film adaptation is better than most.

Set in the 1970s, on an American farm, an ageing patriarch, Larry Cook, (‘Lear’) plans to split his ‘Thousand Acres’ of prime farmland into a corporation between his three daughters. His two eldest married daughters, Ginny (Goneril) and Rose (‘Regan’), eagerly accept. His youngest daughter, Caroline, (‘Cordelia’) who is a city lawyer and the only one of the three to have moved away from the farm, voices her concerns about the whole thing. The father immediately deems her dead to him, and splits the land between the elder two instead. As the story unfolds, we get to know more about the history of the farm, including learning that the two elder daughters were sexually abused by their father whilst they were children, and had both protected the youngest daughter from their father, and kept the secret all their lives. 
This is a story about the 3 sisters/daughters, about sisterhood, (or lack of) about women-in-patriarchal families, their husbands and children.  Similar to the original King Lear, it is a long winding circle of tragedy. Unlike King Lear, it is far more sympathetic to the daughters than to any of the men.  For myself, it gave me a whole new insight into, not just King Lear, but many of Shakespeare’s plays and his drawing of women characters.
With spectacular performances by the whole cast, but especially Michelle Pfeiffer and Jessica Lange, and excellent direction by Jocelyn Moorhouse, I have always been surprised why this film was trashed by critics on its first release.  I can only assume that a film based on a novel written by a woman, about women, presenting men as arseholes, and directed by a woman,  just doesn’t ‘cut it’ in the mainstream.
An excellent two-hankie weepie, (or box or two of tissues)!  


5 thoughts on “A Thousand Acres (1997)

  1. Ha, I got my wordpress to work. I think I will read the book and watch this movie again. Having been gaslighted by a dominate father, I guess it was too close to home for me to really make the connections, especially about emotional abuse. That is when I first saw it. Thanks for the review.

  2. I do have to say after watching this movie again that the best line was as Rose lay dying (paraphrased) I did not forgive the unforgivable and I didn’t turn away.
    The problem with the movie for me was that there was no catharsis. Maybe I will find it in the book, but I doubt it. While it is a great description of the patriarchal family, I found the ‘hope’ at the end to be a cop-out. Oh yeah the next generation will do it.
    Caroline seems to be the inverse of the Cordelia character in King Lear, I think she needed a two by four to the head. Cordelia refused to flatter or be his hand maiden, but in this movie Caroline is more so than the others by her passivity and seemingly opposition.
    I am writing this after watching The Englishman’s Boy which just pissed me off royally. It is a good movie as is very engaging and the actors are great, but I have never in my 61 years of life ever witnessed male guilt as depicted in this movie. A typical male fantasy that they care about women. If they did, there would be no rape ever again for men would stop other men.
    Then I thought about A thousand Acres again and realized there was way too much sympathy for the men and it s all about their catharsis and it would be very easy to blame the women for not telling about the abuse and wash one’s hands.

    • I think that the Lear parallels tend to drop off by half-way thru the film/book — except for the tragic ending, where *everybody *has an unhappy ending, and the ‘tragedy’ theme does not have any catharsis. (As with all Shakespeare’s tragedies– “everybody dies in the end”).

      Like you – I also disliked the Caroline/Cordelia character, but also thought her a modernised version of the female betrayor/traitor/”Athena” stereotype character and hence, in keeping with the “Tragedy” theme running through it all. One of the main foundations of patriarchal weapons is the utilisation of Athena’s, or what Mary Daly Named ‘Daddy’s Girls’ or ‘Fembots’. Even if she had learned the truth about their dad, She would never have believed it anyway, or would have just used it to betray both sisters even worse than she did. Nothing could undermine her loyalty as a Daddy’s Girl, her sisters least of all. Ginny I think also betrayed Rose, but for different reason, with her, it was her fear being so huge, keeping her silent.

      I put the film in this particular category of “Men Behaving Badly” for the portrayal of the male characters (not the women) – however, I didnt see that much sympathy for the men. Not with the two husbands, and the dude that had an affair with both the elder sisters. As some dude said on a film review blog, “why are all the men presented as arseholes?”. Men often like some chick-flick films, when there are one or more ‘Nice Guy’ (TM) male characters: ‘The Accused” had that guy who gave evidence against the perps, Thelma & Louise had the Nice-Guy cop who was trying to help them. But men hate films like ‘Thousand Acres’ and ‘Chaos’, because *ALL* of the men are presented as arseholes, although to varying degrees, (from mildly irritating along the spectrum to violent pedophiles), but none of them are ‘Nice Guys’. So men hate these films. Maybe I should have called it “All Men (even the Nigels) are Arseholes Category”?? 🙂

  3. Ah, yes, thanks. Caroline as the Athena daddy’s girl and yet Ginny was the one always trying placate him, his handmaiden so to speak, the substitute wife and Rose the whore/sex partner.
    Why I think the men are portrayed sympathetically is more from the book as Ginny is the narrator and always looking on the good side and refusing to see the bad. Also, I was referring to the husbands, not the father, and I did not make that clear. I haven’t finished the book, yet either.
    I took Ginny’s betrayal of Rose as willful ignorance, sort of like the wife who doesn’t see what is happening to her daughters. Yet she was not officially one.

    • Yes 🙂 I had forgotten the book, I read it many years ago and don’t remember it very well. Ginny is the narrator and her telling of the tale, is very much from the forgiving positive-thinking ‘Pollyanna’ position, as you say – in full-on denial. Though in the film, I saw her fear of the consequences, her cowardice, her feeling that honesty would only make things worse, along with confusion, as she was the one with repressed memories, or mixed-up fragmented memories, and was never sure of herself. And that was all mixed-up inside with her desire for a child that she couldn’t have etc. She blamed herself, and Rose, for what happened.

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