These frame scenes expose the movie's essential confusion. Are middle Americans volcanoes of repressed longing that sometimes explode in moments of glory? Or are they sodden fools who cling with fierce ignorance to the wreckage of their Victorian values? It is hard to tell if the movie celebrates rural America as an idyll or makes fun of it, because it does both, and it does so with no apparent awareness of the contradiction -- a sure sign of profound creative disarray.
There is a truism in Hollywood that good novels make bad movies. Film cannot capture the shadings of language and perspective that give good novels their literary appeal. But is the obverse true, that bad novels make good movies? Or do bad novels simply make bad movies that are bad in their own way? Bridges may finally answer this question. As for the larger questions it raises, its answers are too small and shopworn to matter.
The Bridges of Madison County opens Fri, June 2. See Showtime for locations.