Directed by George Stevens
Giant is a Texas-themed soap opera about a cattle rancher named Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) who marries a Virginian girl named Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) while he’s in town buying a horse from Leslie’s father. When they return as husband and wife to Bick’s ranch Reata, Leslie doesn’t quite fit in with all the Texas bigots. This, surprisingly, becomes an overarching theme of the film, but you’ve gotta sit through a whole lot of Texas-sized movie before it ever pays off. And — spoiler alert — even that payoff is less satisfying than I’d have liked it to be. In a film this long (201 minutes!), is it too much to ask that we actually build toward something worth waiting for? I guess if I was a hard-hearted racist jerk, it’d take almost 3½ hours to get me to understand why the film ends as it does, but I was already on-board right from the get-go.
What’s strange about the length of Giant is that it’s an epic unconcerned with being epic. There are moments when it slips into epic mode, but for the most part it’s a fairly straightforward chronicle of 30–40 years in the Benedict family’s lives. So why is it as long as it is? The answer lies within the familial relationships of the Benedict family. Allowed extra space to breathe, Giant presents more nuanced and layered relationships than are usually seen in films — especially one from the ’50s. But even with its extended length, it still feels like it’s breezing through the years and could have easily been longer if it wanted to be.
Giant says a little more when it comes to the theme of how each person must grow through life and find a purpose. James Dean’s character, Jett, starts out as a young, indifferent loser, without much ambition or anything to call his own. Through a good bit of fortune, he comes into a piece of land. This seems to give him purpose, and now he lives his life actively working towards something instead of brooding in a parked car, or coolly peering at Leslie from under a wide-brimmed cowboy hat. But because he is defined by his indifference to others and he refuses to change, he remains the same detached asshole he always was, now he just has power and money to go along with it.
Bick is a different story. He always had a purpose, but it wasn’t the most well-thought through. His purpose was simply to survive and keep the cattle ranch afloat so that he can pass it down to his children. He doesn’t care much about living his life or being with his family, just as long as he leaves them with an even grander family legacy than he was given. He is a rich man, but that also doesn’t matter much to him. He wishes to be a legend, a giant. While this is a somewhat noble ideal, the world is changing around him and what was once legendary is now passé.
Giant is big like the state it depicts, although I doubt many die-hard Texans are too excited about this one. It doesn’t exactly glorify the residents of the state. I wasn’t entirely won over by the film, but I consider the fact that I didn’t rip out large tufts of my hair or fall asleep out of pure boredom a major win for a film of this size. Fans of ’50s cinema will definitely find at least a few things to enjoy here, if not a whole lot of them; Giant was nominated for 10 Academy Awards.
Giant was a part of the 2013 Blind Spot Series where I see one movie a month that I feel I should’ve seen a long time ago. It’s all the brainchild of Ryan McNeil over at The Matinee, one of the web’s premiere film blogs. Head over there tomorrow where he’ll have a post of his own for the series, as well as links to all the other people taking part in the series.