Most people wouldn’t be able to name the perpetrators of the most recent mass shooting in the U.S. or act of terrorism on the international stage. Yet the name Charles Manson lingers more than half a century after his crimes.
MANSON FAMILY VACATION is a 2015 film which I watched on Netflix a few days ago.
It tells the story of two polar-opposite brothers: one a lost soul who has a fascination with the 1960’s Manson murders – the other a straight-laced lawyer who is nothing short of repulsed by his brother’s interest in the cult leader.
The Manson-enamored brother, named Conrad, is insistent on emphasizing the perceived positive aspects of the cult guru – his environmental activism, love of animals, his ‘helping’ of kids who’d been kicked out of their homes and of course Manson’s music.
He’s also ready to tell anyone who’ll listen how Manson was not present during the nights of the murders in August 1969 and so his conviction for those crimes is doubtful at best.
But his responsible legal-eagle brother, Nick, is having none of it. In one exchange between the two that takes place in a bar, Conrad observes, “I knew you would freak out if I raised the topic of Manson”; to which Nick replies, “Dude, EVERYONE freaks out when you raise the topic of Manson”.
In another scene, bearded Conrad becomes giddy with excitement when he meets a guy who shows him where Manson’s family bus now lays rusting and abandoned in the desert. When he’s invited to sit in Charlie’s seat behind the wheel, it’s a moment of pure euphoria for the free-spirited black sheep of the family.
With his shaggy haircut and bushy beard, the actor (Linas Phillips) taking on the role of the ultimate Manson fan even looks a bit like Manson, a connection that becomes more relevant as the movie goes on.
It’s rare that anything associated with Charles Manson can put a smile on your face but this character study with elements of both buddy film and road movie does just that. It’s no easy thing merging dark comedy and a brother re-bonding story but in this case the filmmakers manage to pull it off.