Monday, August 29, 2011

Red Road

Director Andrea Arnolds’ Red Road is the story of a woman who carries a crushing pain inside her, and because of a random encounter feels a compulsion to confront it. It’s a slow movie – There isn’t one instance of what film scholars call exposition: Having one character say something so that WE can understand something is going on. No, Red Road leaks its story out slowly, and then it lowers the boom on us.

When one watches watch Jackie (Kate Dickey) at work, you quietly note that this is lonely way to make a living. Manning a desk in front of a large bank of TV screens, she spies daily on the people of Glasgow as part of Britains vast web of closed circuit cameras. She picks out certain people, like the man who walks his bulldog every day and the cleaning lady rocking out with her headphones. Her little familiar smile makes it s evident that she is familiar with them. She watches them from habit, and always from a distance. That seems to be by choice.

Jackie starts to emerge as a person who is somehow disengaged from everyday life. It’s hard to know why, there’s just something about her that says “loner.” Her apartment doesn’t look like it ever sees company. She has a male co-worker that she has sex with, but it is passionless and abrupt. There is no indication of any real affection between the two.

One day she receives an invitation in the mail to a wedding, and we see the first clues as to what makes her tick. The wedding is of a sister-in-law, and Jackie is plainly uncomfortable here. There’s a little conversation with an older man, who says “We only want to say goodbye to him proper.” It’s not spelled out, but we can guess who this is – Her ex-father in law. So she was married to his son, who is now dead. The threads start to come together a bit.

Then, one evening at work, Jackie spies Clyde (Tony Curran) on her video screen, and everything changes. It’s evident that this is someone that she knows, but from where? Taking advantage of the cameras, she is able to essentially track this man everywhere, including to his home: The scuzzy high-rise apartments that give the film its name. Although the film makes the CC cameras a mere plot device, it also makes a quiet little statement about their existence and use. The Brits have made the decision to forego essential human freedoms in exchange for the appearance of safety. Red Road lays open this idea, and exposes it for all to see, without making judgments about right or wrong.

The melancholy Jackie that we saw at the film’s open is now replaced by one driven by an obsession – The man in the video. No longer content to merely observe, she begins to take an active role. She uses the cameras to establish that the man works for a locksmith, and goes as far as to call his workplace, and ask if they have done a background check on him.

The film only very sparingly doles out clues as to the relationship between Jackie and Clyde, and they are easy to miss. Jackie pulls out a newspaper with his picture on the front page that announces that he has been sentenced to 10 years in jail. She pulls out baby clothes, stuffs then with socks, and hugs them. She gets into bed with 2 cremation urns. These tiny little scenes fill in a lot of the back-story for us.

Jackies pursuit of Clyde takes her right up close, and she eventually meets him. Clyde is an intriguing figure. Our exposure to him has only been through Jackie, and we assume the worst, based on the signals she has given us. To be sure, he is no angel – he’s crude, and profane, but Jackies’ early encounters with him give us a whiff of a human being, as well. We learn that he has a daughter who thinks he is dead. “That’s what her Mom told her.”

Red Road’s cat and mouse game leads to a scene of immense, unsettling power, as Jackie has sex with Clyde. The scene is explicit, and is frankly uncomfortable to watch, knowing what we know about the relationship between the two. On the face of it, it doesn’t make sense that she is there, but the immediate aftermath indicates what her real game is, and suddenly we are forced to re-evaluate what we have just watched. There are at least 2 or 3 agendas happening in this one sequence. She is using the sex against Clyde, yes. She is probably also punishing herself for what she sees as her sins. Is it possible that she enjoys it, as well? Perhaps, at some subterranean level, this is also true. There have been a couple of hints in that direction. This remarkable sequence takes the loyalties that we have built up with these characters, and pulls them apart. We are left without moral bearings.

The film looks to be heading down a road of despair, but it is rescued by another unexpected appearance on Jackies video screen. In one tiny instant, she realizes that she has a piece of common ground with this man who she considered the distillation of evil. The resolution finally comes in a beautifully done encounter between Jackie and Clyde, as they revisit the site where their fates came together. Clyde tells his story of how he made a tragic error, and Jackie about how her last words to her daughter were to “Get out of my sight.” It’s a gorgeous, heart-wrenching scene.

At its root, Red Road is a story about catharsis. Clyde knows that he was responsible for the destruction of a family. Jackie feels that it was because if her that they were put in a position to die. In a perverse way, they are lucky that their paths crossed again. As we see Jackie in the films closing moments, she is different – better. Instead of sitting in front of a screen, she is down on the street with the people. She finally seems at peace. That’s the thing about cauterizing a wound. It’s painful, but in the end, the wound heals.



Friday, August 26, 2011