Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

17 Feb 2001, 8:01 a.m.

Can you count on me?

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2001 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Saw "You Can Count on Me" today, alone (odnoy in Russian, I think) and I'd like to talk a bit about it. It's great, subtle and sharp, and -- as in the best of art -- as a multipart mirror, showed me parts of myself in a new light.

It's a drama, mostly, and focuses on the relationship between two grown siblings. Mark Ruffalo plays the brother; Laura Linney ("Meryl" in "The Truman Show," I think), the sister. They lead rather different lives, and conflict arises.

It's also very good. Linney was recently well-deservedly nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress. I think Ruffalo deserves a nod, too, and I don't think he got one. Oh, well. The dialogue reveals as much by silences and undertones as by speech; indirection and intelligent editing reveal a trust in the audience's intelligence. And the story forced me to consider how I am like or unlike each member of the matched pair, brother and sister.


This much you may know from the trailers/ads/reviews that give away stuff from the first twenty minutes: Laura Linney's character, Samantha, was abducted by aliens, and Ruffalo is an FBI agent-- No, wait. She is the mysteriously-disappeared twin sister of a phone company employee -- Argh, that's "VR5".

You see, this movie here has no big special effects -- maybe none at all. It's just about ordinary people's lives. When they were young, Samantha and Terry's (Ruffalo's) parents died in a car crash. She's the older one, I'm pretty sure. Now, she still lives in the same small town, a single mother of one young boy, working steadily at a bank. Terry, on the other hand, is a smooth-talking drifter, and has come back home more for cash than for family bonding.

Samantha is an older child, I think--she's so responsible, pushes herself so hard. And Terry leaves other people to clean up his literal and figurative messes. His irresponsibility and impulses to move on, to lose himself, and his flat-out lying to tell people what the want to hear -- Clintonesque, only with less of the charm, thanks to his failed attempts at sincerity. Yet there are times when he IS magic, when he really is a good guy. It's just that he doesn't care to keep up the act when he's not in the mood. He can make lots of excuses, the angry blame-flames of the early-disillusioned.

And Samantha's child is quiet and withdrawn. The kind of withdrawn that I get during conflict with people I love.

Samantha always seems wound too tight, always harried, during breakfast or after sex or whatever. And she feels as though she is always responsible, and she has always had to be the responsible one and it breaks some mechanism in her to find that bad things have happened to ones she loves, because *it's her fault.*

And so she seems more sympathetic to me, most of the time, and yet Terry has something, too. I wouldn't want to be angry all the time, like him, but he's intelligent, and questioning, even if he lets these qualities flow out through destructive and self-destructive channels. He says that he's not looking for anything in his drifting, just trying to get on with it (I think that's how he says it).

Would spontanaeity be such a bad thing? Some things can force you to plan, but what can REALLY force someone to be spontaneous? YOu can never stop someone from making plans. The only way to force spontaneity is to change someone's circumstances all the time, to make previous plans null and void, and force her to react to new conditions. But if that happens enough, she gets dull, withdrawn, passively accepting her reality like a rat in a maze.

I imagine.

As quiet and withdrawn as the kid in the movie.

Unless she can do something about it. Unless she can escape the maze.

Poll: "You Can Count On Me"

  • Haven't seen it
  • Saw it and liked it
  • Saw it and disliked it
  • Other; I'll comment below, really I will

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at