I figured that New York of all places had to have at least one DVD rental outlet with a wide selection including lots of indie and foreign titles instead of just a hundred thousand copies of Jurassic Pie 4. But I'd had no luck finding it until someone pointed me to Kim's in the East Village, where they have, like, everything. What floored me was that to rent a DVD costs — are you ready for this? — one twenty-five. Ten bits. This in a city where seeing a movie in a theater costs ten dollars, with no matinees. That's right: for the price of seeing a movie that's been out six weeks at eleven in the morning, I can rent eight DVDs and watch them in the comfort of my own home without having to worry about the guy next to me whipping out his cell phone. (Sidebar: the guy who I got my membership card from sounded like Boomhauer without the Texas accent. One of his coworkers said she was headed out for lunch and asked if he wanted anything. His reply: "Whuh huh huh yeah huh yeah some huh some uh chicken would be good whuh huh huh yeah chicken any kind of chicken whuh huh chicken I like chicken whuh huh huh huh.")

I decided to inaugurate my Kim's membership by renting The Cement Garden and The House of Yes, a pair of films which share everyone's favorite theme, sibling incest. In both, the plot revolves around an outsider being introduced to a family which has to a great extent lost touch with the outside world, and established a space where the rules are different. The problem with The House of Yes is that the alternative space it constructs, complete with ritualized recreations of the Kennedy assassination that segue into hot twin/twin action, is basically ridiculous, and it doesn't help that instead of trying to ground this scenario in some sort of reality, the film further denaturalizes things by having the characters speak in a highly artificial manner, as in a Mamet play. (The House of Yes was in fact originally a play, and its theatrical origins are painfully evident in the filmed version: for the most part, we might as well be watching a stage with a camera trained on it. This is not a good thing.) In the end, therefore, the film is really about nothing other than itself and is hard to care about.

To the extent that The House of Yes does make any sort of observation, it's when it shows the outsider and a family member meshing not well at all playing "Chopsticks" on the family piano, at which point the twins take over and play something fiendishly complex beautifully together, preternaturally well-suited musical partners. As the girl twin tells the boy twin in trying to convince him that she's better for him than this chyk he's brought down from Pennsylvania: "We have so much in common! Parents, DNA, bone structure..." But The Cement Garden presents a different picture, and it's much more convincing. Jack, the spotted, long-haired, 15-year-old protagonist, initially has no real attachment to any of his siblings — sure, they live in the same house and all, but age and sex differences present a gulf that mere DNA and bone structure similarities can't hope to fill. His little brother plays weird games he can't understand and his sisters seem to exist only to provide him with accidental glimpses of flesh that leave him flustered at first and desperately horny later; but as for having enough in common with any of them to have a conversation that doesn't end up tense and awkward, not so much.

But then school ends, and their parents die, and they're stuck in their small, apocalyptically messy cement-block house together and have to fend for themselves... and ever so gradually, they develop in-jokes, have discussions, play games, speculate about how long they can continue to go on like this, without parents, without meaningful contact with the world outside the house... and they begin to wonder why Tom shouldn't dress like a girl if he wants, given that Julie already wears her hair short and dresses just like Jack... wonder why if Julie and Jack have taken over for Mum and Dad in some ways, they shouldn't act like them in others... and eventually they end up in a place not altogether dissimilar from The House of Yes, forging a bond that leaves anyone outside the family permanently locked out and looking in, but the transition from normalcy to a pocket of Otherness is so seamless, and the sets and characters are invested with such documentary realism, that the two films could hardly be more different. Not to mention that while The House of Yes is basically empty, I haven't even begun to discuss the panoply of themes and threads that comprise The Cement Garden, which was one of my favorite books even before the astonishingly faithful adaptation became one of my favorite films.

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