North Texas Daily

‘I Know This Much is True’ is nothing but pain… and it’s well worth the watch

‘I Know This Much is True’ is nothing but pain… and it’s well worth the watch

‘I Know This Much is True’ is nothing but pain… and it’s well worth the watch
June 22
11:44 2020

When schizophrenic Thomas Birdsey (Mark Ruffalo) has an incident at a library that results in him being placed in an asylum, his twin brother Dominick (also Ruffalo) makes every attempt to get him out. As Dominick navigates how to save his brother, he must confront the reality of their tumultuous relationship and come to terms with the ghosts of his past.

At its core, the thematically-driven “I Know This Much is True,” based on Wally Lamb’s novel of the same name, is about family, sacrifice and forgiveness. The way in which it explores these topics is through the most acute and unsettling lens of suffering.

Through and through, this show is six hours of repeated gut punches. And yet, it is one of the most compelling and cathartic limited series 2020 has seen.

I’m really not exaggerating about the gut punches. Everything seems to go horribly awry for Dominick, and you wince as you watch yet another tragedy befall him, just praying this guy can catch a break for once. What is so wonderfully done about these tragedies though is how they chip away at Dominick’s tough exterior and unearth his most intimate insecurities. While the plot itself is loaded from episode one, the series is a bit of a slow burn when it comes to revealing Dominick’s character. As he’s forced to let his guard down and, bit by bit, reluctantly grapple with his trauma, we slowly learn about who he is at his core. It’s not until the very end that we fully see him — not as the result of poor storytelling, but rather of an intentional approach for viewers to understand the character through his own eyes, in his own time.

Perhaps even more meticulously calculated than the narrative and character development is the show’s cinematography. Visually, it’s stunning and incredibly well thought out. The color grading and subtle film grain reinforce that this takes place in the ’90s. Long shots with the slow zoom in or zoom out are also reminiscent of the time. The principle shots are layered with flashes of Thomas and Dominick’s past, similar to the equally masterful flashbacks in”Sharp Objects.” Top that with a brilliant score of devastating piano playing and you have a profound watch, even without dialogue. The apex of this takes place at a certain funeral in the last episode, in one of the show’s most powerful sequences.

The cast members here do a great job- Imogen Poots as Dominick’s girlfriend, Joy, John Procaccino as his stepdad, Ray, Archie Panjabi as Dr. Patel and Michael Greyeyes as his childhood classmate, Ralph. Particularly outstanding are Kathryn Hahn and Rosie O’Donnell as ex-wife Dessa and asylum director Lisa Sheffer.

By a landslide, the MVP of the series is Ruffalo, for both of his portrayals but most notably that of Dominick. Admittedly, I haven’t seen much of Ruffalo outside of Marvel and rom-coms, so I’ve never seen him act quite like this before, but wow, does he absolutely nail these roles. As Dominick, he fully embodies the guarded yet traumatized asshole persona and demands both sympathy and pity. As Thomas, his acting is frightening and gut-wrenching. He does a tremendous job of filling each role so authentically, and it truly seems like there are two entirely different people on screen. I was especially floored in the scenes where Dominick and Thomas are together (the best one is when Dominick visits Thomas at the asylum for the first time) because obviously each part was filmed separately, and yet he’s absolutely seamless. The Emmys should already have a nomination with his name on it.

Despite this, the series doesn’t earn a 5/5 because, well, it’s just too miserable. I would’ve liked to have seen more of the good moments between Thomas and Dominick for more context regarding their relationship, though I don’t feel as strongly about this as other critics. Some believe the extensive suffering makes it unwatchable, but I found the despondence to be part of what made it so strong. Admittedly, yes, this show is essentially Mark Ruffalo’s characters getting emotionally destroyed. But the creators were careful not to oversaturate each episode with sorrow, and instead, they wove impactful dialogue and character-revealing moments into the thick of the plot. It made where we ended up so much more earned, and in the final 15 minutes of the finale, we finally find some peace.

Some argue the timing of this release wasn’t the best. They say it would be an easier watch if we were living in a better time. But I believe the profoundly human experience in “I Know This Much is True,” despite how harrowing it is in the moment, ultimately serves us with what we will need to move on through the lessons Dominick finally understood.

“I’m not a smart man, particularly. But one day, at long last, I stumbled through the dark woods of my own and my family’s and my country’s past, holding in my hands these truths: that love grows from forgiveness, that from destruction comes renovation, that the evidence of God exists in our connections to one another. This much, at least, I figured out. I know this much is true.”

Final rating: 4.5/5

Featured Illustration: Isabel Balabuch

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Haley Arnold

Haley Arnold

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