George, an overweight class bully with a learning disability. The development of his character is a thrilling convergence of virtuosic debuts – Estes’ screenwriting and directing, and Josh Pecks acting are both phenomenal. George elicits a terrible range of emotions as the other five characters (and the audience through them) come to regard him at various points with hatred, pity, compassion, and ultimately, hopefully, love. He Is a mystery, a secret, and this story painfully articulates the danger of reductionism, of presuming to know the enigma of another’s existence well enough to Judge It.
In the first scene, George pummels Sam, whose depiction by Roy Culling is easily the est. performance in family history, for touching his camcorder. Rocky, Cam’s older brother, and his friends are well acquainted with George’s reign of terror, and so they immediately start planning to teach him a lesson on behalf of Sam and the rest of his victims. But Sam has a highly developed conscience, and Insists that as they mete out punishment, they not stoop to his level of bullying. They need, in Rock’s words, “to hurt him without hurting him. ” What makes this story so important is that none of the characters are really motivated by cruelty.
Several scenes in the film establish a rare, intense bond of friendship between the five. Absent this motivation of love, the film would degenerate into a lame situational experiment like “River’s Edge. ” As it is, the fact that the scheme against George Is really a misguided cry for Justice makes this The interaction between these six characters is one of the most genuine, nuanced “world within a world” that I have ever seen in a movie. The establishment of genuineness is a hard task in a film, and an amazing thing to watch when it is pulled off.
Estes does all of the small things right, seamlessly conflating this setting with the Oregon I grew up in, or at least the Stacked I grew up thirty miles from. From the stopping for cigarettes at the indistinguishable mint-mart that is not the movie-ideal mom & pop store, to the home life of Clyde, whose wealthy, homosexual fathers convincingly part with the lazy, worn-out, clickd Hollywood portrayal of white- thrashed. And speaking of clicks, the fact that so many are put into the mouth of Marty, the self appointed rebel, leader, hero makes his pretentiousness all the more convincing.
The immediately striking aspect of the group as a whole is the way that the five knowing teens revolve around George, who thinks this an honest “boat trip with some buddies. One of the most subtly revealed aspects of the group, however, is the way that each of the younger middle-scholars has a counterpart among the high- scholars. It is hard to say whether this was intentional on Estes’ part or not, but their interrelatedness is a really interesting feature, definitely something to watch for.
First, there is Clyde and Millie, who share sensitivity to George and an apprehension towards the plan, but ultimately give their approval to the plan in halfhearted but important ways. Sam and Rocky, the brothers, are themselves the initiators of the plan, and share the strongest desire to see Justice done. But they are fair-minded, and both waver in their commitment to it, allowing themselves to be influenced by the changing dynamics of the situation. Finally, there is the strange polarity between George and Marty.
Their opposition is strong, as Marty is the chief executor of the plan, most bent on seeing George pay. But the reason for his determination is what binds him so closely to George, namely that he is the product of past sins, that he acts not out of simple volition, but in response to past harms and injustices. George’s disability subjects him to confusion and fits of rage. Martyr’s horrendous family story and present home life cause him intense frustration. The climax comes when these two collide in an unpredictable way as the representatives of their respective worlds in an ignorant, shouting rage.
At the point of this interpersonal collision, there is a thematic convergence that also takes place, the climax of the two main points: first, that once we undertake strategic, retributive action towards another person, we initiate something that is not under our control. Revenge is essentially an attempt to step into the role of the universal, to speak for the providence which Alyssa Karamazov so pointedly denounce as hidden at the most necessary moment, as if wanting to submit itself to the blind, mute merciless laws of nature. This sort of sovereign Judgment, however, requires an omniscient awareness of motive, both one’s own as well as the other’s, that humans simply do not posses. The pronouncement that “one thing that can’t be argued is that that fat freak deserves what he’s got coming” is fatally compromised by the closing opens up his final secret, that people that don’t see inside my mind don’t know there’s a zillion things. And since no on sees inside my mind, no one really knows. But one day people will know.
And this scatological pronouncement, “that one day people will know’ issues the charge, the commandment of the film: listen, understand, “do not bear false witness! ” This film leaves no clues as to whether the future is open to forgiveness, but only promises that it will bring the revelation of secrets. In light of this, our only way of acting in love is by acting in simplicity – not assuming to be capable of righting past wrongs, but only of honest interaction here in the present.
It is a message that any strategic intention on the life of another apart a desire to bless motivated by simple-hearted love invites the most dangerous uniqueness. A digression: individual responsibility in the face of a cruel fate is a well-worn artistic subject, and deservedly so, since it is one of our greatest mysteries how it can be that Jesus simultaneously “that offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes. ” The tension between freewill and providence has, in Christian circles, afforded some of nastiest arguments between well-intentioned people.
Yet it is also a topic of great frustration for “secular” society, and Estes deals with it beautifully. He has this incisive comment in a wonderful interview/review of the film over at Paste Magazine: “A river is a force of nature, going in one direction, and once you’re on it, you’re on it. That’s what it does to the characters-?they become a force of nature. ” The voicing of questions concerning structural evil, corporate guilt, and fate demand Christian engagement, since these are some of our primary points of engagement in our reflection on God.
Beowulf, Hamlet, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Plague – all of these and many others directly address the question of the meaning of personal action in the context of a seemingly predestined fate, and often implicitly explicitly in The Plague) leading directly to critical questioning of the doctrinaire explanation of Providence. “Mean Creek,” falls right in the thick of this tradition. A further digression: as a movie about a murderous doom that befalls a group out on a boating trip, it obvious that “Mean Creek” shares a good deal of subject matter with “Deliverance. This is highlighted by a few direct allusions. For instance, in the third scene, when Rocky is explaining his little brother’s situation with George to two of his friends as they walk out of that pizza Joint in Stacked, Marty punctuates their agreement to “roast that pig” by screaming “squeal piggy squeal! ” Later on Clyde thinks he sees a water snake, and though no one else sees it, this phantom snake is a beautiful way of making a substantive connection to one of the most eerie and figurative scenes in “Deliverance. And finally, when George indicts Millie, Sam, and Clyde as “puppies,” Millie goes back on her initial misgivings about playing truth or dare, saying, “Go ahead Clyde – start the game. ” This is probably the most haunting echo of Lewis’ monologues on playing the game, and shows the most striking intellectual link between the two movies: there are consequences when people move from participants in to manipulators of their existence.
Yet this by no means consigns it to being “a teenage take on ‘Deliverance” as Mike Goodlier puts it. And although twist on the coming-of-age genre. ” It definitely does have some affinity with some recent movies such as “Thirteen,” but its content casts a much wider net than these, depicting a much more universally human dilemma. Rather, the use of typology in “Mean Creek” is more of an exercise in free play that makes use of other stories to tell new story.
So we may say with Kenneth Turban that “the plot, with echoes of ‘Deliverance’ and Tim Hunter’s ‘River’s Edge,’ has familiar elements, but the film’s keen sense of interpersonal dynamics, its emphasis on non-exploitative honesty and its concern with larger issues set it on firm ground of its own. ” So, in this setting what makes Jacob Estes’ first feature length offering, “Mean Creek” so refreshing is the way his production values mirror his thematic values: his film is an honest, unpretentious story that that doesn’t try to hide its influences.
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