I once literally ran about a city which is not my home in order to watch the film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints three times in one day. When it comes to film acting, Casey Affleck is the one for me. I love the love he is rightfully getting for his work in Manchester by the Sea, but from my experience Affleck always works from the inside. I don’t think anyone is able to express the internal depth and nuance of a character like Casey. He doesn’t need dialogue or that scene in a film. All he needs is for a character to have something to them in the first place.
mbts1

In Manchester by the Sea, wonderful serendipity occurs as an actor who is masterful at conveying internal experience works with a writer and Director creating a film where this is also the focus. The result is life in both its simplicity and complexity. The film takes both the mundane and the utterly tragic and rather than focusing on either, it conveys the impact of life upon people. I found it a very soulful film. With sparse beauty, script, actors and Director coalesce to crush your heart with the characters’ experience.

Manchester by the Sea lets us feel who Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is long before we know why. Affleck is light and understated, doing very little, yet searingly intense at the same time. Lee is a man who has closed himself off from life in every way in order to survive, but all that really separates him from an unspeakable and unfathomable abyss of pain is place. While divulging no plot, Manchester by the Sea focuses on a lead who is (understandably) unable to overcome an event that happened in his past. He has never addressed this event in any way and the only way he has been able to continue to exist following it is to remove himself from the place… and almost from existence entirely.

The film is aptly titled, for place is so important to it. Have you ever felt like you weren’t sure if you’d ever be able to live in or visit some place ever again because it held such memories? I know I have. Unlike Lee, the things that made me feel that way were not insurmountable. But I remember how it felt. Every second back in Manchester by the Sea is threatening: pulling forth memories, and Kenneth Lonergan offers no get-out clause. You crave some kind of resolution for Lee, or at least the vaguest possibility of hope, but such is never offered. For Lee, to go through a barrier to address his past would be self-immolation. mbts3

Sounding miserable? Like life, Manchester by the Sea contains much humour, too. Often it is laugh out loud funny. The absurdity and awkwardness of life in both mundane and tragic times is funny. The characters are often funny. I loved the band practices so much! There’s a warmth of humour to the film and to family interactions between Lee and his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges: so convincing and sharing interesting traits with his Uncle) which I hope everybody has experienced at some time in life with their own family. The chemistry between Affleck and Hedges is perfect and gives so much to the film and I look forward to seeing Lucas Hedges in many films in the future for he’s wonderful here.

At a sad time in my life, I remember wondering how any human made it to old age. So many memories people must have, I thought. How did people bear even more of them? Manchester by the Sea uses flashbacks which eventually reveal what we’ve felt the impact of from the start of the film. You also know there is something to reveal since you see past and present are different. These moments from the past flood in suddenly. They are surely Lee’s memories, coming to him randomly but consistently, as memories do, forcing him involuntarily to remember and so to feel everything he has had to shut himself off from. He cannot afford to allow that, but at the same time he has responsibility and while Lee has closed off all possibilities for the future for himself, perhaps his brother knew that responsibility towards a person Lee will always be connected to is at least one reason for him to continue to exist.

Manchester by the Sea itself spends most of the film in the grip of Winter. Streets are lined with walls of snow and ice, which you feel after a while might be a permanent feature and may never melt. It seems stuck in a time which seems endless and inescapable. But while Spring comes for Manchester by the Sea, for Lee there is no release. Yet, there is another side to the place: a wild sea, and seabirds overhead. Birds always feel free and the life that takes place on the sea also is where there feels the vaguest sense of hope. Lee smiles here once: the first he’s smiled in present time that we’ve seen and so powerful because of the fact.

I personally felt Manchester by the Sea captured depression. A depression prompted by guilt and a persistent grief turned to melancholia, which will never be overcome. Lee has moments when a desire for self-destruction bursts out: violence the only way he is able to articulate his pain, but most of the time he just accepts a semi-existence, aware that this is all there will ever be for him. I also can’t stop thinking about the start of the film where Lee speaks to his nephew, jesting about something along the lines of being the one who has all the answers; who knows the map; who understands it all and knows how to survive. But the thing is, life is wild and humans are fallible. There is no map. There’s more to this, but I think it gives away more than I ought to speak of it if you haven’t seen it!

Manchester by the Sea gets right down to the depths of folk and the broken soul of Lee really destroyed me. I personally loved how this film, so focused on the deepest aspects of experience was scored with so much vocal music (and a fair bit of strings to boot) for what more articulates the soul than this? I also found the purity of the score a perfect match for the rawness and purity of pain. mbts2

Talking about raw, Lee is not the only character who is broken here. Patrick shows surprising resilience given what his character experiences, but Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex-wife, Randi has a world of pain of her own which she conveys powerfully in relatively few scenes which span a decade in Randi’s life.

Manchester by the Sea is a film that I’d be surprised if you could easily get out of your head because it gets down to the difficult depths of what life does to us and how we can undo our own lives and it offers no map out. There are films that can have you sobbing but five minutes after they’re over you’re fine again. This one though lingers days after the credits. It takes its time to break you down (given that the subject matter isn’t happy from the start, it is some time before you’ll need a hanky!) but once it gets going, the tiniest of things kept making me shake with sobs. At the same time, as well as revealing a pain that feels physical even as a mere viewer, Manchester by the Sea gets to this place with warmth and humour and even to its most broken inhabitant, family is what matters.

Imagine how many Lee’s there must be out there. How many people are, for whatever reason, irrevocably damaged? How many people have had to limit who they are? How many people are merely existing? Manchester by the Sea made me want to fix everything and everyone so it was all OK. It made me feel afraid for the future. It felt more like life than art in its conclusion. Though tragic, the film, I felt, is not a tragedy: it doesn’t offer either positive resolution or cathartic release. It just is. It is why it feels almost unbearable at times. But, like life, people endure and it continues, its hurdles never easing, yet hope never completely vanishing either.

Image

So, like a sleuth, last Sunday I was in London and I found a cinema still showing Ain’t Them Bodies Saints for one last cinematic experience (as if I hadn’t already had enough! …. I haven’t!!)

The film still made me physically ache!  Not just for a bit, but for much of the film. How does it do that when I know it so well now? I also felt strange things about cuts to doors at certain points in the film, which made me sad with significance & foreshadowing.  This definitely suggests I have seen the film too many times.  I am probably inventing the significance of doors.  Everything can have meaning if you’re on a certain wavelength so already feeling?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just that: we find meaning and odd associations in the strangest of things in real life, so maybe that’s the way in which I felt these door emotions?!  I am crazy.  Yes.

Anyway, back to the event in question: it was a double bill with Mud, which was screened first.  I’m curious, those of you who’ve seen it (not that anyone’ll be reading this!) what do you think of Mud?  Or indeed Ain’t Them Bodies Saints?  The double bill was themed “Lost Souls and Last Chances”.  It fits and I see why the films pair for a double bill.  I’ll get to that…

In any case, before the cinema opened up I glanced up and in the upstairs window there was a teddy bear!

Thus, I imagined his story.  I think he lives in the cinema and when no-one is there, he sneaks down, puts on the films and watches them, rapt.  He imagines the stories the films tell are how real life is and when he goes back to his room upstairs, to lie there, immobile to all observers, really, he dreams of how his life would be were he not a teddy bear, forced to remain inert when human eyes are upon him, watching his films alone in secret.  But although Teddy doesn’t get to love and live out there in the real world, he also doesn’t have to die and nor does anyone he loves.  The only sadness he ever has to experience is the vicarious empathizing with these often flawed, yet mostly romanticisied if not also idealized human-folk on the screen and the loneliness that the knowledge that their world is beyond his grasp brings.…………  I made up Teddy’s story as I was going along and now I am slightly afeared what it may say about me so I think his tale may end there…!!

Before I return to the double bill… So, you do you want to hear about the door(s?)?  I am sure not, but I am going to tell you my thoughts anyway.  My gosh, I could write a thesis on Ain’t Them Bodies Saints by now I’m pretty certain!  Even though I know literally nothing about film.

THE DOORS IN AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS:

The first time (or when I first noticed this door stuff) was when Ruth is singing Blue Jay to Sylvie, lying on the sofa (the same song Bob was singing and humming to the as yet unborn Sylvie just before the moment of the top image from the film and indeed their last time of happiness together).  At this point Ruth knows Bob has escaped and it is the first time we see Bob post-escape: coming out of the woods (like the little horse!) and embarking on his journey home.  I felt sudden whopping (note to self: should use whopping more in general conversation) sadness at that glimpse of door.  I don’t even know if it’s meant to be as I felt or it is just a door!  But anyway.  It’s just this cut to a closed door and I guess I first just thought that I’d not noticed there was a door there then I thought why was there just the door there and then I felt it…?!  Is this odd?

The second time is after Bob has spoken to Skerritt who has told him to stay away from Ruth and he’s angry and says Ruth’d run from the house Skerritt has provided for her as if it were on fire in order to be with him – we see Ruth and she looks towards the door.  I doubt it’s actually the same door, since it goes to the outside, but it’s still a door of her home – it’s an ajar door this time.  She goes out, looks out then closes it.  From first watch this scene always had the vague sensation that Ruth had (as Bob will later say in his own words) sensed Bob’s presence or the strength of his feeling.  Not explicitly, but a tenuous thing…  I don’t know – as though the strength of Bob’s feeling is such that it somehow reaches Ruth and when she sees the door ajar, she feels it and looks out as though perhaps  Bob’d be out there..??  (I don’t wish to imply the film is airy-fairy we all are literally one kinda danglings as it is not, but I still feel this..)

Anyway, this time I was also thinking about it (as I did with door one) in relation to that door we’ll see near the end – prempting the door Bob will eventually come through. As though it’s writ?  And that’s the third door – wide open, blood is on it and it’s where Bob entered the house.  Oh, door, you tragic piece of wood and handles and lock.

I must be literally crazy thinking things like this about doors.  I am sure all films have a lot of doors in them.  Doors, doors, doors.  Or…  is it intended?  Are there lots of other things like this in the film that we don’t notice but subconsciously we feel them and they add to give the film it’s ache?  Because literally for an hour my chest ached, my heart beat faster, my breathing was deeper, slower and at the end my throat hurt with the sadness.  I didn’t sob like the first few viewings, but it likely would have been better if I had done so as without that the ache didn’t leave me and for hours afterwards I kept feeling tears coming to my eyes.  In the end that’s the best I can ever say about a film – that it makes me feel something very strongly.  (As long as it is a thing the film wants me to feel – not for example irritation, haha!!)  And in this case, given the amount of times I’ve now seen it, I don’t know quite why or how it still achieves this..?.  Is it still yearning I ache for?  Still for the characters?   A desire for all fantasy to be able to somehow become real?  I don’t know, but even though I’ve seen it lots now, it still devastated me

So, now I’ll move on to Mud which I’ve seen once before as well.  It was interesting to have these two films together and there are comparisons you can make certainly.  Mud makes me feel a bit sad and frustrated overall though. Having just spoken about how much Ain’t Them Bodies Saints makes me feel highlights even more my problem with Mud: that it doesn’t.  Watching them back to back, for me, did this even moreso as within the first few moments of ATBS I was caught up in it’s feeling.  But Mud?  See it IS enjoyable to watch and a great film in most respects  (comparisons have been made to Stand By Me and that is there in it’s feel) except in what it has to say (which is, surely the only thing that matters!)  It makes me feel nothing and any message I struggle to take from it leaves me feeling rather unsettled at best, piqued at worst and if you look into it feels a little insulting to all ladies. Because first and foremost this film is Ellis’ coming of age tale and what he mostly learns is not to trust any woman as even if they don’t do so via their own malice, they’ll end up being a guy’s downfall.  Anyway.  Sadder still that it’s in essence an indie film (is that the right way of describing it?  I mean by this that you’d think it’d also have a different and open minded viewpoint to put across) and it’s shy of it but not shy enough that you can’t note the metaphors that come to the fore several times between the female of the species and venomous snakes who if you linger too long by, you’re done for.  I mean, if you really want to you can go down this route until it all becomes ridiculous.  Mud’s lame “If you find a girl half as good as you” at the end does naught to undo it all!!  All as Mud and Tom sail off into their freedom.. free, too from those life-shattering females…!!  If it just didn’t highlight it a bit in the way it ends, the way Mud’s women seem intangibly unknowable wouldn’t matter so much and it’s still not an awful thing, but it just leaves an uncomfortable tang to what might have been so much more?

It’s not that it’s view on women pervades the film negatively, but more that it’s just an uncomfortable tinge to an ending that has little meaning at all.  And with no meaning, the film is sort of ruined. A film with no feeling at the end and no message to take away from it is if not worthless then weak no matter how enjoyable it’s been to sit through, how beautiful or well acted.  It is empty.  I don’t mean to be mean to it as I want to like Mud, but why didn’t they decide what they wanted to say with it?  Or did they want to say they world would be better or at least men’d be more content if women didn’t exist?  I mean I could go through every woman in this film or referred to but I don’t have the inclination to do so.  Funny how Mud and Juniper are the main love story in this and you get a lot more told backstory – going back until they were 10 although they too physically remain apart for nearly the whole film.  Yet I never felt love from Juniper to Mud.  And I did from Mud to Juniper at times, but it obviously fell away easily.  You know, it is acted very well though and the two young boys are particularly great.  I feel I am being harsh on it that I feel kind of against it but I don’t know: it is a really good watch, but also frustrating and just sad – sad that it has nothing to say and that the little it does say is pretty depressing if you’re not a man.

Anyway, you could compare the folks in these two films I guess.  There are similarities and differences between Mud and Bob.  Both outlaws, though different as two law abiding citizens are.  Both with a propensity towards lies and fabrications, fantasizing and Romanticising their worlds, though Bob moreso as this defines him.  I could go down pathways here and do this compare and contrast but it’s not that interesting and it’s even less interesting to compare Ruth with Juniper or any of the females in Mud since I can only think it’d reflect more negatively on Ruth than she deserves to try to compare this way.  And to ATBS as let’s face it I have just been a bit uncomfortable with the portrayal of women in Mud, but there is only one woman in ATBS.  Well, and a child.  But then there are few people in ATBS, so…  And it’s a small story where Mud is supposed to be Ellis’ coming of age.  The stories’ needs are different. Anyway….

Let’s end with Ruth though.  I felt her a little differently in this viewing of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.  I kept falling back on that line “Maybe I’m just fooling you all” and so wondering how much exactly she is holding back?  Has she grown up, moved on really from Bob anyway?  I felt it more complex than this from first watch that Bob was still who she felt passion for, and that she did feel a debt she owed to him too, but she knew inside there was no way for them to be together and he posed only danger to their daughter now who she’d protect of course above all.  This time though, I wondered whether Bob didn’t offer her a kind of freedom to be entirely who she is she can’t have without him too.  Bob knows a side to Ruth it is apparent is there (that smile after holding the gun) but which we don’t otherwise see in the film and nor does any other character in the film.  “Maybe I’m just fooling you all.”  Maybe she has to keep up some amount of ruse the entire time in order to protect the life she cares about more than her own.  It’s kind of I suppose in a small way like a sacrifice she makes for Sylvie as Bob made a sacrifice for his love, Ruth and for Sylvie.  I don’t know.  I’m going in silly circles now.  But, is here a sense in which Patrick is a fantasist just as Bob is in seeing “only the good” in Ruth?  In looking upon her and her daughter as though they are angels.  Are we all guilty of this kind of fantasy?  Surely.

And so it leads me back to the ache in the film.  The biggest aspect is for the tragedy you know is coming even on first watch.  The yearning and aching is most of all for the heartbreaking Bob.  But deeper is it for all our fantasies in our little lives and for our realities and and and and and…….?

Image

“…And then we can forget about words…”

I need to say this before I can too forget about them.

I didn’t intend on using this place to talk about things like this, but I really want to ramble on somewhere where no-one will care if I write aeons of stuff that is really only for myself.  Thus, here I wish to express some of my feelings about this beautiful, aching film.  I am sure no-one will want to read the five squillion randomly ordered words, but if by any chance you happen here, don’t read anything if you haven’t seen the film.  This is not a review and I will say what happens.

Before I get into the film, I wanted to talk about a few scenes that really stuck with me.  I hope in so doing I will further put off anyone who hasn’t seen the film, because it’s not a thing to be talked about but a thing to be experienced in the end.

Scenes:

1. Bob is driving home to Ruth’s.  Behind him is a car with bright headlights (filled, I presume with the ‘bountyhunters’) and the way the lights shine through Bob’s car, for an instant it truly appears that light is shining right through Bob’s skull: it looks like pure light is beaming out of Bob’s eye sockets.  He has become a skull, emanating light.  I guess, without explicitly thinking about why I liked it at the time, it conveys an intensity of his feelings, love and need for his home, Ruth.  At the same time it somehow seems to show Bob dissolving into nothing, as a ghost.  Following this, the other car zooms past.  Bob stops at a stop sign (after first being illuminated in red light), and the music swells as he looks towards home – so close as he now is.  Then, he looks down and recovers himself before bringing himself to turn towards Ruth’s location and the music, as he looks down, stops.  Here, to me it is like Bob’s feelings and thoughts and the music truly are one.  It made me wish for an entire film scored this way: the music directly following a character’s emotion.  I wonder how it would be.  Probably if it was for an entire film it would just distract I suppose.  But here, it was so powerful.  Its sudden drop, falling to nothing, as the world is about to fall away.

2. On perhaps viewing three (I am slow) it suddenly struck me that Sylvie wants a horse for her birthday.  The book Ruth reads to Sylvie throughout the film is about a horse, trying to make his way home, against the odds… essentially like Bob.  If Bob’s story had been made into a book for children this would literally be it.  And then, Bob, when he visits Skerritt picks up a cowboy on a horse.  As he leaves he takes it with him and throws away the cowboy in anger and frustration.  But he keeps the horse.  As I say, on viewing three it was here that it touched me and I suddenly realised this all.  It’s around the time of Sylvie’s birthday and I imagined her receiving this horse from her Daddy.  Afterwards I did an imagine wherein one day Patrick finds Bob’s truck and the horse is still in there and so he keeps it and thus Sylvie one day will own that horse.  And that tiny thought resolved some sort of a happiness in the future or me.  Is that odd?  Anyway.  Given that I could go on about this horse for several paragraphs more you can tell I am likely to yammer on a bit here, haha!

3. Bob talks of how he feels he and Ruth are essentially one person.  This entire “mirror scene” is my favourite dialogue based scene in the film.  It really hit me.  If I knew it, I could quote the whole thing for it’s glory, but then it wouldn’t hold it’s power merely written as it does spoken here.

A snippet:

“And I said ‘Ruth, you can scream at me until your voice is gone, but it doesn’t make much difference because when you’re all done screaming it’s just going to be you and me sitting in a room.’  And she said ‘That’s right, it’s always just going to be the two of us.’”

I found it particularly touching because it starts humorously (yet touchingly even to begin) and becomes something that’s simultaneously grand and Romantic and idealized…. And yet also it expresses something very genuine.  It is here too that Bob expresses Ruth’s restlessness and at the same time conveys how they are both each others’ home.  When he talks of Sylvie knowing him without ever seeing him and Ruth feeling him draw near it is fantastical, mythological, unrealistic.  And yet, is it because he has said it or because it is there that there are times in the film when you do feel characters sense each other?  A time when Sylvie wakes and Bob is indeed close.  Does she sense him?  A time when Ruth hovers at her door… Certainly, Bob feels like this: he is pulled on Ruth’s tide.  To go to Ruth even he must know is not good for him, her or Sylvie, yet he must as it is all he is.  Also, this scene comes soon after the only scene that offers the audience a sudden singular shard of hope for Bob and Ruth: That tiny moment when Sweetie proffers papers to Bob for the three of them – for a fleeting moment you feel a future could be possible.  The only true moment you really feel this in the film.  A film mainly full of much more intangible “what if”s…

4. The final scene. I don’t know what to say about it.

The film…

So, normally, if I have something to say about a film, I can express the essence of it in a few words.  Ain’t them Bodies Saints strength though lies in what it made me feel and feelings can be hard to accurately articulate.  It’s more a feeling than a story.   The biggest feeling that pervades and so probably all I should really say is that particularly the second half has this almost tangible aching to it: the film aches, the characters ache and we ache as we yearn and yearn and yearn for them and for what we know is impossible.

To me, it is simply a film that expresses something I don’t know how to say in words about love, yet just trying to think of it brings tears to my eyes.  And the love draws and pulls as though it were a physical thing, entwining people in an inseparable way.  The film contains this massive, desperate love that binds despite all else.  That’s the best I can say it, but I am unsure whether or not I am just writing words to be honest!  I think it’s also there in a sensuality.  This is evident in the fleeting moments of flashback we have of Bob and Ruth, but also just in the way the film is shot.  In scenes varying from the way nature and music are juxtaposed, to the way characters interact, to the way people even touch – the feel of paper against fingers – even the letters are sensual objects… to the way people are kept in the shadows: we literally can’t even always see the subtleties of their expression.  Yet even light creates mood in the film.  It sometimes seems to diminish characters to shadows.  Sometimes there are scenes where you feel so much when you see no expression at all (for example when Bob discovers his baby girl is born.)  Talk of sensuality, makes me want to briefly say I love how each of the three main characters at one point sings a little.  I don’t know why: like it gives them a warmth and reality and even a poetry?  But yes: there are not many scenes with Bob and Ruth together and not that many words, yet I felt like Ruth & Bob were tied together via invisible bonds.

It’s not a film wherein the actual plot matters too much.  What it tells of are these small characters and small lives, filled with emotion.  It somehow manages to show something so deep about love while at the same time all the characters are in some sense rather ordinary and ineffectual at living.  The story that is told is often the small moments: the things that happen outside of the big events – a film in the cracks.   As much in life is, really I think.  Even that mortal gunfight: it’s scrappy and if it were not so life and death, really it’d be hilarious in it’s ineptitude.

An aside about film and books… (oops…)

What does film have over a book?  If you’re telling a story, in the end it will always be more complex and your characters more fully rounded in a novel.  Image is not a helpful thing in this respect for a film to have as a book allows you to imagine people, scenarios in a way a film tells. And after all your imagination is limitless.  But, I think perhaps the thing is that a great film can create a kind of magic in which it can express deep feeling without needing every word.  Because of how it is acted and because of how it is written and put together.  Thus, if you feel something from a book, you’ve had all the detail so surely you could articulate precisely why you feel how you do, yet a good film can at it’s best get you to feel things you can’t fully articulate.  I knew if I began this I’d stray from the point.

I am LITERALLY crazy…  Loopy like a loop-the-loop.

I mean, I have now seen the film *whisper* seven times, four of which were in one day.  It was only showing in one cinema near me and only for this week so it’s now ended.  Thus, while I was in London I decided to see it MANY times and did literal sprinting about the town in order to do this!  I couldn’t tell you why I did it.  I know I could never watch the same film on a TV even twice in a day and I guess perhaps that’s it: watching a film at the pictures is an experience that can never be recaptured.  You’ll never watch it in such a focused way again.  A film takes you into it in a cinema in a way beyond what it can do on a little screen.  And so to watch it over and over is just like going to that world again.  I sobbed at the end of each of these four viewings on the same day.  I didn’t expect that I would.  Not after being a re-watch on such a scale.  But perhaps my zooming about never gave me chance in the day to fully leave the story, so repeated viewings just felt like a continuation of the world?  I will add that by the final cinema, the lady selling me a ticket did look at me oddly.  My face was likely tear stained.  She probably thought I’d rushed off from some emotional trauma to drown my sorrows…. In a film.  I’ve no idea. The last time I watched many things along the way got to me.  I couldn’t recall them all.  Of course, once you know a film, the sadness and emotion of it is different because you know it.  Yet you still feel it, sometimes mores.

Anyway.  Back to the film…

Bob.

I suppose I still (at least want to) believe in that passionate, encompassing love which is probably daft, but maybe it’s why his tale is so resolutely the heart to me, though apparently it’s not to all viewers.

So, what pervades the film first and foremost is Bob’s love for Ruth.  It is like every fibre in his being draws him to her.  For him, they are one – life without Ruth is inconceivable.  Essentially Bob’s whole story in the film is that of his sacrifice for the woman he loves: he goes to prison for her, thinks of returning to her all the time while there: we can imagine his four years spent thinking of her and his child.  He has nothing else to dream upon.  His love remains strong and unwavering.  It doesn’t occur to him Ruth might’ve moved on (she never would in his imagination.)   Eventually, he escapes to get to her and his child.  And ultimately, he dies for them.  It is hard to feel the truth which is that in this he gives that gorgeous little girl, his daughter a true chance in life.  You want nothing more than for his idealistic vision of a perfect future to be what happens (and I hate happy endings!) even whilst knowing from the start it could never be, while at the same time this end resonates in the way any tragedy ought – with the end that there has to be.  A rightness that you feel.  I guess, at least Bob doesn’t get to become an old, disillusioned man.  At some point he’d surely have to otherwise realize in fullness the distance betwixt his notions about himself and his life and his real self. Perhaps that notion is even sadder.

Before seeing the film I’d imagined a thousand letters from Bob to Ruth conveying his love for her, but really his feelings come more in how he is.  His being shows his love for her.  In flashbacks, the way she is never far from his thoughts and how every action of his is to take him towards her; in what he does for her and to return to her: in the fact that without her he seems incomplete, and he conveys the depth of his feeling in a few stories – moments from their past together, beautiful descriptions of how they are meant to be and he even creates romanticized fantasies of a future in which they could exist.  To him though, they are desires.  Bob speaks of Ruth as though she is a poem.  In another life perhaps Bob would be a poet: compiling words on love and he Ruth and Sylvie would live together happily in the house Bob dreams of.  They have the potential to be that, but that’s not who they are.  But it’s not the words Bob says about Ruth: you just feel his ache for her as though she is part of him.

Because Bob loves Ruth so much, it’s not that I wanted them to reunite, even as I saw it was wrong for Ruth and more especially for their child Sylvie, so I needed it all the more.  The whole second half of the film is suffused with heartbreak and this sense of ominosity for you know this is going to have no happy ending.  But I needed at least Bob to see Ruth again. I could not have borne it had it not happened.  I am very glad it ended with the kind of resolution you get in Shakespearian tragedy rather than with no resolution.  Yes, we see how Bob and Ruth can’t be together, and yet to me, there were few times when I didn’t crave it.  There was such a desperation to that need.  As I said, Bob was the heart of the film for me.

The end…

The sound of just the breathing before Patrick finds Bob…  Even as we knew this was what must be it is prolongued yet further…  When he looks at his daughter at the end.  When Ruth at last reunites for those last few moments.  That heartbreaking flashback: the same positioning – right to the very last pure moment of joy the three of them really had together – a moment filled with Bob’s heartbreaking fantasy: something that not even he can fix the detail of.  It breaks your heart.  I don’t know how to talk about it even.  One thing he says is true – at least for him he and Ruth are one.  And so, if there is hope in the ending I guess it is that for him Ruth is part of he and thus he lives on?  (No solace in stupid words like that!!)

Ruth.

Ruth is an interesting character because she by her own admission closes herself off to a certain amount of feeling following Bob’s imprisonment.  I love her strength and she is a beautiful mix of strength, emotion and understanding.  She is the grown up in the film.  And in a way, her inner life must be the saddest…  If I try to imagine her position – if a man I loved had gone to jail for me, more than anything I would feel utter guilt.  But it is good to see a character like this in film.  In life we all have to close ourselves off to certain things.  There are things about every person that are unknowable.  Ruth is a rather unknowable person in some respects and I feel Rooney Mara is a great actress to convey this as there is that quality to her on screen generally.  I haven’t seen her in much, but I think so in any case.  Ruth is the way she needs to be to exist.  And she displays romantic passion and a freedom with Bob and a deep, encompassing love with her child.  I thought several times about feelings Ruth must have.  People have said her future is more positive at the end of the film, and there is potential light in it, most of all for Sylvie.  I can’t get over the feeling that Ruth must surely feel an awful mix of sorrow, guilt, relief…  guilt….  I speak later of how the fleeting flashback scenes are often like glimpses of memory, and as I recall it’s often Ruth’s memory so in this way I felt an additional insight into her.  I love that although Ruth is grounded in reality unlike Bob, you always feel her love for him.  Incidentally, I’ve not mentioned Sylvie much as I have too much to say, but she is like a veritable angel and I love the relationship with her and Ruth.

The duo..

I feel the difference between Bob and Ruth is not so much in their love (although obviously Bob needs Ruth, while she can live without him and even at the start I think Ruth senses that their love, no matter how strong, is not enough…  Which must be very sad for her) but rather in their view of the world.  Bob is essentially still a boy – he sees how he wishes the world to be.  It’s telling when Skerritt, the ‘father figure’ at the end comments of Freddie and Bob, the little boys thinking they were tough men and when Bob talked of their play as children: I felt a world of them playing at outlaws as kids and when this turned into actual crimes it just being a continuation of this: their simultaneously still thinking of their actions as play and thinking of themselves as the tough outlaws they one played at.  Though in reality, perhaps it is all a lot smaller and essentially petty I suppose (we don’t know the extent of the crimes to comment I guess, but they’re obviously not notorious outlaws!)   Ruth was likely involved in this too, but we see at the film’s start, Ruth is growing up even before her child – she never loses the thrill of holding that gun in her hands, but she says to Bob she doesn’t want to go to prison.  She sees that this is a possible outcome to what they are doing.   Ruth doesn’t romanticize the world like Bob does.  Bob remains a child and he creates vast fantasies about the future and the past and spreads them about as though they were reality.  He can tell Ruth at the start of the film she’ll never go to jail because he loves her but also because in his fantasy of course that never could happen.  It’s not because he won’t let it happen although this is what he ultimately does for her.

Patrick.

Patrick is a wonderfully gentle and understanding character, although I will say that the thing that stood out to me about him was at times I palpably felt his solitude even though it’s never explicitly talked of.  It was that solitude that touched me most about him.  When not being a cop or with Ruth, he is shown alone and when he is alone, it feels alone.  If that makes any sense.  It really resonated.

Patrick and Ruth.

I feel the film very clearly portrays that no matter what else, the passionate love lies between Ruth and Bob.  However, it’s not just safety, protection, adulthood and stability for her child that Patrick offers Ruth.  He offers her a peace inside.  Ruth loves Bob, but her life with him was always restless.  You sense this in the first scene we have of them.  You know it in how Ruth talks of all she has to express to him.  You even sense it in the way Bob talks about her.  Ruth raging against him and him, merely being there.  Makes it sadder.  Maybe there is something adult in this as it is.

Others in the film.

I should say that I loved all of the characters in the film.  I love that they don’t judge each other, they just are.  (Barring perhaps Skerritt….?  He’s the most mysterious character to me: the one I would have questions about if I needed the entire plot as I don’t fully understand all of his actions and feelings.  I don’t want to talk about him as although he is empathetic and intriguing, I feel I know him less.)

There are certain moments with all of the characters where there is such a sense of the feeling in them when not a word is spoken.  Scenes where people just are: sitting somewhere, lying in a bed and yet you feel something from their core.

For all that I’ve expressed about my feelings for them though, in an odd way it is not for the characters you feel as you watch.  Rather you seem to somehow feel as they feel.  Perhaps it is because we don’t know that much about them to overthink things that we just tap into the feelings.  (She says, analyzing every little thing is this post, hahahahaha!!!)

The title

Finally – the title.  I’ve read in places that the title has no logic/sense to it really (although I reckon that’s mostly Casey Affleck being jocular and charming rather than doing serious talkings in an interview.. ;)…), but to me it fits perfectly with how Bob tells his stories and fantasies.  If someone happened upon Bob’s remains or spoke of his “legacy” I dare say  he’d be pleased with the kind of epitaph the film’s title imposes.  It feels like the ultimate mythological epitaph for Bob to me.

Personal connections you feel…

Not so relevant in talk of the film, but significant to me and when a small scene touches you I feel it’s worth mentioning: when Bob whistles to the birds it took me right back to my childhood (Incidentally, I wondered much about that house – where the shoot out happened.  I presume it’s Bob’s Daddy’s farm.  What’s the history there?  Why is it Bob and Ruth spent such time with Skerritt?)  My Daddy always whistled to birds.  He could get birds doing their courtship dances to him on hedgerows and fences.  We’d laugh and he’d carry on, birds (literally) falling at his feet (metaphorically)…

The end of the film

“Ruth: Tell me more about that house.

Bob: I’m not talking to you… 

… It’s big. Maybe a farm.  And it’s old.  It’s older than us.  And at the same time though I feel like maybe I built it.  There’s no telling.  There’s just no telling.”

Although you don’t get as great an insight into the complexity of characters as in some films, the pervading feeling’s the film offers are the direct feelings of the characters: you feel as they (particularly Bob) do.  However, this end adds a further reaching emotion to the film as well I feel.  It’s like a metaphor for the whole film and works on a bigger level.  Bob mythologises his life as he lives it – myths are as old as time and so Bob’s stories are somehow this way too, yet his fantasies are also created by Bob…. Bob’s life is a myth as old as time and at the same time, he created it.  Just like the house he speaks of here.

I don’t know… I can’t properly work it out to explain, but in the end as well as the actual tragedy of the end of the film, there is another layer: a death of fantasy.  The gulf between tragic reality and imagination.  There’s something so powerful I can’t explain in this itself that even when you’ve watched the film several times it still hits home.  I suppose there is something in it that links to all of our lives: our dreams, fantasies and imagination and even links into what film is in itself…??

Anyway, I adored Ain’t Them Bodies Saints due to how it made me feel.  I just want to wallow in it like a gorgeous, doomed memory I want to become a part of (obviously not literally! It’s not the happiest of tales! But still, somehow!)

To give an idea of some of the elements I feel add to the feeling of the film (I don’t fully know what achieves it, but… and now I try to do something more succinct..!?!)

  • The film is beautiful: from the way it is shot which includes as well as beautiful imagery, an oftentimes dusk setting to scenes which seems to link to this dusk setting of the point of Ruth and Bob’s story we are bing told… The film also ends fading to an eventual blackness of the inevitable night in many scenes where bleak events take place; to individual images that seem to hold emotional resonance (one scene of just an empty chair stands out as one example) – Many individual images are like works of art in themselves.
  • It has a tactile, sensual nature: the way characters interact with their surroundings: objects take on a character; the mainly glimpsed moments of Bob and Ruth are very sensual.
  • The way the film is edited – the moments when scenes flit swiftly are like how you recall fleeting memories which makes the fragments take on an additional power – as they’re what’s remembered they take on extra significance and you feel as though you are inside the person who is remembering (usually Ruth’s) head.  It’s very intimate.
  • The way characters seem to sense each other’s approach.  This is never made explicit, but it’s a thing I felt at times.
  • The music adds a great deal to the feel of the film – both it’s presence and when it is absent.  There is a fair amount of the film in silence.  Perhaps it is because of the quality that the music has – an unending feeling to it that when there is silence, other, smallest of sounds stand out.
  • The music itself contains held pedals, undulating strings and notes sustained for long times: the music itself your whole being is waiting to resolve and thus it creates a yearning as the emotion of the film does.  Claps enter and resound with the rhythms of life like a heartbeat or drive the few moments of action.  The music is very entwined in the film: songs and music used by the characters becoming part of the score and continuing and vice versa.  It follows the emotion of the film very closely at times too.
  • Talking of silence, some of the scenes in silence hold such feeling.  I am thinking of where Bob is at Sweetie’s: you almost hear Bob’s thoughts as he lies awake, then goes to seek out the gun…
  • The reminds me of another scene: where Patrick finds Bob’s photo that he dropped exiting Sweetie’s.  You have Bob looking into the window and Patrick is looking at the photo of Ruth and Sylvie that has been part of what kept Bob going for years.  Even though Bob could obviously not know Patrick is looking at this, it feels so intrusive to me.
  • Images repeated – visually, metaphorically – like a cycle for example when Bob and Sweetie drive along the road to dig up Bob’s money is echoed later as Patrick’s car follows the same trail.
  • Themes linking concepts as I’ve gone into earlier in this posts for example Sylvie and her horse – stuff that you’d not explicitly notice at first, but you surely still feel their impact as they’re there in the film.
  • Iconography.  At times, the characters do feel almost as though if you were to reach out and touch them they’d disperse into the air: Ruth and Sylvie’s relationship is so idyllic, literally angelic: with Sylvie cherubic and Ruth sometimes looking like the Madonna; Patrick is the definition of gentility such that he seems almost a cipher to it, and Bob is so consumed by Ruth that she and his daughter are literally his entire world.  This creates the sense that all of these beings are close to the film’s title somehow and adds to the mythic, fairytale nature of the world we are in.

…Ain’t Them Bodies Saints….

….I can’t get it out of my heart.