July 23, 2014 1 Comment
Context is king. Most filmmakers inherently understand that what we know of characters and events will influence our interaction with a film. A piece of knowledge might change a thematic interpretation or it might influence our empathy for a given choice. Many find withholding context until the very end is a good tactic to force dramatic reevaluation. The under-appreciated risk here is that without that context, sometimes decisions seem poorly founded or take on more problematic ethical tones that shape one’s sentiments toward a film that late reversals cannot change.
In Blue Ruin, we learn early on that Dwight (Macon Blair) has lost people and the one responsible is being released from jail, though it is over 20 minutes before it is made clear exactly who was killed, and a full hour before the circumstances of that act are revealed. The curious thing about the way the film withholds this information is it doesn’t use it as startling revelation (though there is a different piece of information that qualifies). And so it does occasionally strain one’s patience, seeing certain responses and wanting to know why extralegal approaches are seen as necessary on both sides of this feud.
I feel like some of this trend for withholding context is an artistic response to the critical concept that exposition is bad. To directly explain any knowledge is inartful and it isn’t enough to simply find natural ways to say things, but to hold that stuff back until later. It is kind of a tragic sense because one of the film’s most powerful scenes is the reunion between Dwight and his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves), one of the few scenes in the film that truly reveals some of the facts of the matter. It is this scene that overcame my initial concerns and largely bought me into the action.
I have to confess to being a hard sell on revenge tales. Especially in Korea, where they predominate, there tends to be a strong cynicism involved, a single mindedness about the task. Blue Ruin succeeds in this genre by making those involved fallible, and at least somewhat hindered by doubt. This makes the tragedy of the genre have more impact than mindless obsession. As either pure revenge film, or twist on the family feud, the ending proves potent, pulling down some of the artifice we use to divide ourselves. Ultimately these moments of craft overcame any annoyance about withheld information.