Leave No Trace

Cine qua non

One of the unique strengths of film is its ability to impart
empathy, transporting us from the insularity of our own experiences to some
character or world that, while qualitatively different, appeals to some common experience
of human tenderness. Debra Granik’s Leave
No Trace
swells with empathy in its depiction of father Will (Ben Foster) and
his 13-year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) who have been living “off the
grid” in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, only to have their lives uprooted
by the outside world in ways both disorienting and welcome.

When we meet them, Will and Tom have carved out a daily
routine of basic survival, sustenance, and companionship in a nature preserve
on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Granik does not sensationalize the dual challenges
and idealism of their pared-down lifestyle, narrowing in on moments of grounded
love and courtesy between father and daughter. Will validates and…

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Pathologies of the poor in Us (U.S.)

Since I seem to be on hiatus–here is an intelligent reading of the social criticism of Us.

Cine qua non

Spoilers ahead.

At a key plot juncture in Jordan Peele’s Us, the Wilsons – headed by Adelaide and
Gabe – are seated alongside kids Zora and Jason, having been violently confronted
by their scissors-wielding doppelgängers. Responding to the natural question of
who are you/what do you want, Adelaide’s croaky twin (titled “Red” in credits) answers:
“We are Americans.”

Without any need for explication (and there isn’t, thanks be), this line directs us to what is a foundationally American story – the story of a vilified “underclass” (this time, in the very literal sense of the word) and the cultural narratives of individual merit and pathology that have been propped up to justify that position. Hands Across America, a Reagan-era campaign launched in 1986 to address national hunger and homelessness through non-profit fundraising and awareness, is featured in the film’s opening shot – a publicity stunt at odds with…

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