Director: Paul Schrader
Screenwriters: Paul Schrader

Institute History

  • 1998 Sundance Film Festival


Paul Schrader has long been esteemed as one of the preeminent American directors exploring the existential conditions of our lives. His latest opus is a milestone in a career marked by innovation and originality. With a stellar cast headed by a remarkably compelling Nick Nolte, Affliction is based on the novel by Russell Banks (whose work has recently come to public attention in Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter). This powerful, sometimes-bleak tale depicts a small-town cop in upstate Vermont struggling to rebuild his relationship with his young daughter after ending his marriage. Mercurial, even unstable, Wade (Nolte) is trying to reestablish a family and regain visitation time with his daughter, but the dysfunctionality in his life is not merely the result of a failed marriage. A short visit with his domineering, abusive father Glen (frighteningly portrayed by James Coburn) makes us realize the complexity of Wade’s plight. Willem Dafoe’s entrance as Wade’s brother Rolfe brings a narrative voice which allows us some distance from this inferno of emotion and pain.

Schrader has painted an incredible and disturbing portrait of family life in an environment that seems insular but is both universal and powerful. The idealization of small-town life is ripped away, and that revelation and the film’s dramatic depth create an exploration that is without heroics or simplistic truths. The performances are as good as any you will see this year, but Nolte must be especially recognized for his masterful evocation of a man in the throes of becoming aware. With superb camerawork and direction, Affliction is a rare achievement that will linger with you days later.

Paul Schrader, Director
Paul Schrader’s contribution to American cinema includes many seminal films of the last two decades. His early success came with his screenplays for The Yakuza, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Obsession, Old Boyfriends, The Mosquito Coast, and City Hall. Schrader made his directorial debut with Blue Collar; his other films include Hardcore, American Gigolo, Cat People, Light of Day, Patty Hearst, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, The Comfort of Strangers, Light Sleeper, and Touch.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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