Taglines: What would your life be like without you?
The story is told from the point of view of Howard Wakefield, through narration that reveals his evolving emotional state. A successful attorney in New York City, he is unhappy in his marriage of 15 years to Diana, a beautiful art curator and former dancer. They used to use flirtation with other people to add excitement to their sex life, but she soon begins to resent it.
One night, Howard returns home late from his commute by train and is distracted by a raccoon he sees entering his garage, which is detached from the house. He chases the raccoon into the garage’s attic, where he realizes he has a perfect view into his home, where his wife and two daughters, Taylor and Giselle, are eating dinner. He ignores calls from his wife and is amused at her clear annoyance, but is insulted when she angrily throws his plate of dinner away instead of saving it for him. To avoid a fight, he decides to wait a bit to go into the house, but he ends up falling asleep.
The next morning, Howard realizes Diana will never believe his story of spending the night in the garage and will insist he was having an affair, so he plans to wait for her to leave for work before going in. Instead, he is shocked when, after finding his car still in the garage, she calls the police to report him missing. Howard feels bad when he sees Diana cry, but before he can go inside, his overbearing mother-in-law, Babs, shows up to comfort her.
Babs appears to be saying that Howard has run off while Diana apparently defends him, showing her there is no evidence he has taken any money. Diana then leaves for work and Howard finally goes inside and showers, planning to just deal with the fallout of his absence, before he starts resenting the idea that his wife would still go to work after his disappearance. It then dawns on him that his disappearance is probably a relief to her, and that she probably thinks that she married the wrong man. He cleans up any evidence that he was inside the house, grabs some food from the pantry and returns to the garage.
Howard is overjoyed with abandoning all his responsibilities and amused that people would surely suspect his wife’s involvement in his disappearance, just as he is amused at seeing her tackle the chores that used to be his responsibility. He feels unshackled and free as he spends his time doing puzzles, reading and observing his family and their neighbors. He also happily realizes that he is seeing more of his daughters’ lives than he did before.
For the first few days, he continues to sneak food and amenities from his house. He soon realizes that he no longer cares about having clients and being freshly showered and shaved, and vows to not take anything from his old life or spend the money he has in his wallet. He begins foraging each night through the trash and showers in the backyard bathroom built by his neighbor, Dr. Sondervan, who runs a small home for mentally disabled youth.
As months go by and he grows a beard and long hair, Howard is free to walk about town during the day, where people dismiss him as homeless. The only people who discover his presence are Herbert and Emily, two of Dr. Sondervan’s residents, who follow him back to the attic one day. He reflects on the beginning of his relationship with Diana, whom he met when she was dating his best friend Dirk Morrison, an extremely competitive Wall Street trader.
Through manipulation and dishonesty, Howard managed to take Diana away from Dirk, and as he thinks back, Howard wonders if he ever truly loved her. Nevertheless, he realizes that by simply disappearing, he has the upper hand in controlling her love life. If he had just divorced her, she would be free to date other men, but while he is missing under mysterious circumstances, she can’t easily move on to another man.
Wakefield is a 2016 American drama film directed and written by Robin Swicord, based on the short story of same name by E. L. Doctorow. (Doctorow’s story, in turn, was inspired by the 1835 story of the same title by Nathaniel Hawthorne.) The film stars Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner. Principal photography began on November 30, 2015, in Pasadena, California. The film had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on September 2, 2016. It was released in a limited release on May 19, 2017.
Directed by: Robin Swicord
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Garner, Beverly D’Angelo, Ian Anthony Dale, Jason O’Mara, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Victoria Bruno, Ellery Sprayberry, Eliza Coleman, Monica Lawson, Bill Timoney
Screenplay by: Robin Swicord
Production Design by: Jeannine Oppewall
Cinematography by: Andrei Bowden-Schwartz
Film Editing by: Matt Maddox
Costume Design by: Kim H. Ngo
Set Decoration by: Jennifer M. Gentile
Music by: Aaron Zigman
MPAA Rating: R for some sexual material and language.
Distributed by: IFC Films
Release Date: May 19, 2017