In the last week of Black History Month, the Criterion Channel grants us a look into the newest film to be released in their collection – Charles Burnett’s 1990 film, To Sleep With Anger.
To Sleep With Anger starts off with an ominous long shot of a fruit bowl on fire, sitting idly next to a half-cut apple. As the credits role, we see Gideon (Paul Butler), the patriarchal figure of the film, dressed in all white church clothes. His chair is licked with flames, followed by his shoes, as we slowly fade to another shot of bare feet in dirt and realize that Gideon has fallen asleep holding his Bible and has been dreaming.
This opening scene is hauntingly beautiful and fascinating to watch, and serves as an omen for the rest of the film. Gideon and his wife, Suzie (Mary Alice) are an older couple with two sons and subsequent grandchildren living in Southern Los Angeles when one day they receive a visitor from their old home in the South – Harry, played by Donald Glover in one of his most powerful and unsettling roles to date. With Harry comes a sense of uneasiness, suspicion, and high tensions as his charming demeanor begins to unravel and bring forth a chaos within the family – particularly with Gideon’s youngest son, Babe Brother (Richard Brooks), who is frustrated by the way his father treats him and by the fact that he is not yet successful.