The Subject Was Roses

Watch The Subject Was Roses

"The Story of Three Strangers...A Mother...A Father...And a Son."
  • G
  • 1968
  • 1 hr 47 min
  • 7.0  (1,776)

In The Subject Was Roses, directed by Ulu Grosbard and written by Frank D. Gilroy, a soldier named Timmy Cleary returns home from World War II to his parents, Nettie and John, in the Bronx. Nettie is overjoyed to see her son again but quickly realizes that he has changed. Timmy is now a young man who has seen and experienced things she will never understand.

To celebrate his return, Nettie prepares a feast for the family, inviting Timmy's high school sweetheart, Sheila, to join them. Although the family moments seem warm at first, it is clear that all three of them are struggling to communicate the truth of what they have been through.

Nettie is not pleased with Timmy's relationship with his father. She feels that John has always been distant, and that the war has only widened the already unbridgeable divide between them. Meanwhile, John is struggling with his own anxieties, particularly around his inadequacy as a father.

As the movie progresses, the characters’ interactions become increasingly tense. Sheila, who is the least impacted by the war, serves as a bridge between the three, trying to mediate their disputes and bring them together.

Throughout the course of the film, all three characters confront their pasts and the dark thoughts that have been a lingering presence for Timmy since he returned from war. Timmy is bitter about the lack of support he feels from his parents, and wonders how he can reintegrate into society after what he has experienced. For his part, John is haunted by the memories of his own harsh childhood, which have left him without any emotional tools to navigate his relationship with his son.

Though it is a small, character-driven story, The Subject Was Roses covers a great deal of ground thematically. It explores the themes of war, trauma, generational divides, and the slow, painful process of letting go of one’s illusions about one’s family. Patricia Neal, Jack Albertson, and Martin Sheen all turn in powerful, nuanced performances. Neal in particular is magnificent, capturing the anger and heartbreak of a woman who is watching her family fall apart.

The movie was quite successful upon release, earning four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Gilroy, Grosbard, Albertson, and Neal all received nominations for their work, with Albertson taking home the award for Best Supporting Actor.

The Subject Was Roses was adapted from Gilroy’s own Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. The play, which debuted on Broadway in 1964, starred Martin Sheen in the role of Timmy. When it was initially adapted for the screen, Grosbard insisted on casting Sheen in the role again, convinced that the young actor had grown enough as an artist that his performance would be even more powerful the second time around. Sheen rose to the challenge, and his performance in the film is as powerful and moving as it was on stage.

Overall, The Subject Was Roses is a deeply emotional and thought-provoking movie that feels as relevant today as it did when it was released over half a century ago. It is a reminder of the many ways in which war and trauma can echo through generations, and it is a powerful tribute to the endurance of the human spirit.

The Subject Was Roses
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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 47 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    7.0  (1,776)