Article Film Therapy

Film Review: ‘House of Sand and Fog’ – Coping with the tragic death of a loved one

“We are not like them. We know rich opportunities when we see them and do not throw away God’s blessing.” Behrani

Despite the messes which are of his own making, one cannot help but develop a respect and admiration for Behrani, the central character of this film.  The viewer gains an immediate sense of the lengths to which he is willing to go to provide abundantly for his family. They have immigrated from Iran where he used to be a colonel in the army. The question is whether he is driven more by pride or the love of his family both of which have a great hold over him.

The things we long for can so drive us to distraction that we forget to value what we already have. By the end of the end of the movie, Behrani discovers that what he value most is not a home but his family. His family idyll was shattered with the tragic and meaningless murder of his son which in turn led to the mental breakdown of his beloved wife. He felt he let them down so badly that his life was rendered meaningless.

Behrani is sympathetic towards Kathy when he witnesses her attempt to kill herself in her car on his front drive – in front of her former home.


The straw that breaks the camel’s back was the ultimate loss – the loss of his dearly beloved son, Esmail. We witness him bargaining with God at the hospital where he had been rushed to the emergency room with a gunshot wound. He is willing to part with anything, the house included, if He would spare his son’s life. There is nothing like the death of a child to trigger survivor guilt. A child is to survive not predecease the parent. It defies all common sense, logic and justice.


It is clear from the beginning that all of Behrani’s hard work in working two menial jobs as an immigrant are for the sake of giving his family the best life possible. He has just paid for his daughter’s wedding – what appeared to be a lavish affair at no small expense. He immediately turns his attention to saving for his son’s college education.

According to Stephen Covey, he would be classified as a family -centred person.[7 Habits of Highly Effective People’] because his whole raison d’être revolves around his family, and his life goals are aimed at providing for their needs. There is no time left over from the pursuit of these goals to form friendships or make connections outside of the family. This would explain why he sees no reason to carry on in the face of the death of his son, and the devastation he knows it will cause his wife.

Behrani exemplifies patriarchal ideals. He sees his wife as a subservient other who is expected to keep an immaculate house and fall in line with his financial schemes. She has a meltdown at the prospect of yet another house move, and he slaps her rather than express compassion. Although he feels badly in retrospect, the fact that he sees her as a type of chattel he owns is ultimately shown in his decision to euthanise her rather than share the devastating news of their son’s murder. Clearly, he does not believe she is capable of survival apart from him although she has a daughter who is still alive – another reason for living.


In terms of the best coping strategies for grief, Behrani does not talk about his tragedy to anyone not even his wife. He confide in God in the hope that he would save his son, but when God does not comply, Behrani seals his own fate. One gets the impression that there is a certain degree of self-blame. It was his decision to buy that house at auction which he got at a considerable discount because it was seized property, his refusal to sell it back to the former  owner despite the illegality of the seizure by the council; his decision to take Kathy, the former owner, into their home when he discovers her in his driveway clearly trying to kill herself; and ultimately his instruction to his son to grab Lester’s gun which led to his being shot by Lester’s fellow police officers.  He operates like the colonel that he is in his own home, but it backfires with tragic consequences. In a perverse sense of honour, he concludes that he is deserving of  his fate, and must face the fire – he sentences himself to death.

Behrani’s fatal error is that he does not give himself time to process his grief. His sentence is swift and unrelenting. If he had waited a few hours, perhaps Kathy could have saved him for she makes her way towards the house with favourable news. This film ends up being a multiple tragedy on many different levels. 

The house which was the bone of contention will soon be vacant. Neither Behrani or his family, or Kathy will ever live in it again. Kathy has effectively lost her inheritance which originally meant so much to her, and which her father had worked so hard to acquire. In the process two families are destroyed – Behrani’s and Lester’s. Lester’s involvement with Kathy has lost him his job on the police force and he is now facing a prison term. 

In hindsight, Behrani paid too high a price for the house though at the time it seemed to be a bargain too good to be missed. The only thing that needed to have died was his pride and ambition. 

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