Extraordinary in every way, from the pitch-perfect performance to the delicate handling of explosive subject matter, The Door in the Floor is also a model of page-to-screen adaptation. Writer-director Tod Williams, with only one film on his résumé (the little-seen 1999 indie The Adventures of Sebastian Cole), had a ballsy idea for making a film of John Irving’s 1998 novel A Widow for One Year: Shit-can the last two-thirds of the book and film the first 183 pages. Amazingly, Irving said yes. The result captures the essence of the book while finding its own path to the heart.
From the first image — a four-year-old girl, Ruth (the remarkable Elle Fanning), stands on a chair to study framed photos of her dead brothers — the film exerts a hypnotic pull. Ruth is the daughter of Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges), a children’s-book author and illustrator who buries his grief in booze and screwing rich New York wives who live near his Hamptons estate. This summer, Ted decides that he and his wife, Marion (Kim Basinger), should try a separation. Ted hires Eddie (gifted newcomer Jon Foster), 16, as an assistant, mostly because Eddie resembles Ted’s eldest son, who died with his brother in a car crash five years earlier.
Eddie admires Ted’s Freudian-freighted children’s books with titles such as The Door in the Floor, but he lusts for the lovely, sad-eyed Marion, who is more embarrassed than shocked to catch him jerking off while staring at her underwear. When Marion seduces Eddie, Ruth walks in on the naked couple. ”Don’t scream, honey,” says Marion calmly. ”It’s just Eddie and me.” Ruth thinks she’s seen a ghost.
What kind of movie is this — a tragedy of death and car-crash dismemberment? A stinging comedy? A tale of sexual betrayal and healing? All of the above, and all pure John Irving, whose elegant, eruptive novels, from The World According to Garp to The Fourth Hand, have the wisdom to know that life doesn’t lay itself out in easy categories. It’s bumpy going at times. But Williams is a talent to watch and a wonder with the actors. Basinger’s haunted beauty burns in the memory — this is her finest work. And Bridges, one of the best actors on the planet, blends the contradictions of Ted — a charming egotist haunted by doubt and self-hatred — into an indelible portrait. You can’t shut the door on this spellbinder. It gets into your head.