Jonathan Lethem presents "Bigger Than Life"

New York Times best-selling author and MacArthur fellow Jonathan Lethem joins us to present Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life. A family drama with a Hitchcockian streak, Bigger Than Life is an Eisenhower-era paranoia-laden CinemaScope masterpiece, based on a piece in the New Yorker authored by medical writer Berton Roueché. Careening between melodrama, sci-fi, and horror — Lethem calls the film “Douglas Sirk meets Oliver Sacks” — this poignant and precise vision of ‘50s American life and the fantasy/nightmare of the nuclear family plays like speculative fiction, with medical experiments acting as a harbinger for wild fears of fascism, state power, and class shame. Ray expertly teases out the precariousness inherent in the explicit conventionality of James Mason, Barbara Rush, and Walter Matthau’s characters — a school teacher, his wife, and his best friend, respectively. The group who, as Lethem notes, “rest uneasily on their bed of normality,” feel their quotidian lives violently upended in a Shining-esque trip down a post-WWII Americana rabbit hole.

The film will be followed by a conversation with Lethem.

Dir. Nicholas Ray, 1956, DCP, 95 min.