Sadie. 2018. Directed & Written by Megan Griffiths.
Starring Sophia Mitri Schloss, Melanie Lynskey, John Gallagher Jr., Danielle Brooks, Tony Hale, & Keith L. Williams.
Pressing Pictures/Electric Dream Factory
Not Rated. 96 minutes.
Megan Griffiths has done lots of interesting work, from being 1st A.D. on the 2007 documentary Zoo to directing her own feature Eden, and episodes of TV shows including Room 104 and Animal Kingdom. It wasn’t until this film Father Gore truly took notice of her talents as direction and with a pen in her hand.
Sadie is a timely and also timeless movie. The U.S. are a country perpetually in love with/in worship of war. The symptoms are all there, scattered throughout American culture from the people upset over NFL players silently protesting by kneeling during the anthem at games, to masturbatory war flicks like Clint Eastwood’s hideous American Sniper or TV show propaganda such as 24 with Jack Bauer embodying everything awful about the U.S. government post-9/11.
Griffiths challenges the military worship mindset by presenting a story about a young girl named Sadie (Sophia Mitri Schloss), whose struggle isn’t so much with her burgeoning adolescence as it is with being the daughter of a soldier overseas, stuck at home without the father she reveres and trying to protect her mother Rae (Melanie Lynskey) from the advances of lonely, horny men. Sadie represents a cross-section of Americans on the edge of becoming a cult via blind faith in their country’s military. Most of all, She’s symbolic of how young people are indoctrinated into a love of military and war from an early age, often in the subtlest of ways.
America has a problem with indoctrinating its citizens into a mindset of war/conflict. This pervasive influence infiltrates the people left behind at home as much as its soldiers overseas fighting. Those left home supporting the troops become one of the troops themselves. There’s no line any longer demarcating the division between military and citizen, as the country swallows everyone whole in its Hellmouth.
Who suffers the most, aside from actual soldiers? The family as an institution. American families are no less susceptible to social decay than anything or anyone else. Sadie’s father is away at war and the common response when anyone asks is he’s “out of the picture“— a recognisable phrase, yet symbolic in that he’s out of the picture of the American family, no longer part of that snapshot image of a nuclear family. Their situation is that of many torn apart by the military-industrial complex.
Sadie’s life and environment become a literal/figurative battlefield. On a figurative level, she’s warring with her body, her home life, and everything else when it comes to a young girl entering adolescence, transforming into a teenager/young woman. More literally, Sadie has to fend off bullies for her friend, and she hangs out in a scrapyard that could be a location in a war torn country. Because she’s obsessed with her father and the military, she finds her life becoming dangerously like his own as a soldier, highlighting the biggest problems with a war-obsessed culture.
“Because I’m thinking the stuff you do to fix things over there doesn’t work here. Maybe it doesn’t really work there, either.”
A violent, patriarchal world soon turns Sadie into a monster. She enacts a campaign of military-like tactics against her perceived enemy: mom’s new boyfriend, Cyrus (John Gallagher Jr). This is out of respect for her father, and also a form of internalised misogyny against her mother. Sadie’s unable to let Rae live her own life, despite the fact she’s a grown woman and there are obviously problems with her soldier husband. This is just one part of the patriarchal military mindset that’s crept into Sadie’s worldview.
The father has infected his daughter with the war virus, telling her of missions and battles. Instead of raising a child he raised a soldier— something entire generations of Americans have done for decades upon decades, instilling national pride in their offspring propped up by war, violence, and patriarchal control. Sadie wears one of her dad’s old army jackets, donning the dark green coat over her own sweat like she’s a soldier herself. Through the movie, the audience sees Sadie less like a young American girl, more like the typical image of a child soldier we see in documentaries about other countries. That’s a huge part of the point: America’s no different than some of those countries, except it’s not in the Third World. When U.S. parents see child soldiers they’re shocked, never stopping for a second to realise the scary parallels to their own children. Maybe Sadie doesn’t have an AK-47 in her hand, but does that really matter?
Griffiths quietly explores an American obsession with violence, trickling down from real world violence like war into all aspects of pop culture. Father Gore’s all for young people not being sheltered, considering his own love of horror movies from an early age. Still, there’s a line. Griffiths – without preaching – shows us how Sadie’s entire life is inundated by violent imagery. Fiction itself isn’t inherently the problem. When violence is all a young person consumes, it’s a big problem. For instance, Sadie’s father brings violence to her life by recounting war in vivid detail through their letters, then she plays violent video games – likely Call of Duty and other similar titles – and goes to see gory horror movies at the theatre. She’s steeped in violence, to the point the violence of war seems like any other perpetual aspect of life.
By the end, Sadie realises the error in her ways. Her final voiceover – a letter to her father – recognises the way of the soldier “doesn‘t really work.” She sees the violence of war, on a much smaller scale, at home in the real world. Perhaps the devastating irony comes from how Sadie meant to protect her mother, only to end up hurting her, and killing Cyrus, which is exactly the same sentiment as the soldiers who go to war for their country believing they’re protecting/helping people while they’re actually hurting them + destroying their country. Sadie ultimately embodies her country’s nationalist foolishness, believing she’s a saviour when she’s actually a destroyer.
Griffiths gives us Sadie at a pivotal time for America. This could easily have been written ten, twenty, or thirty years ago, and simultaneously it’s very of-the-moment, too. Sophia Mitri Schloss and Melanie Lynskey steal the show, though it’s the younger of the two who shines, bringing to life a vivid portrayal of a confused child in a confused and violent country. This story may hit too close to home for some Americans. A way forward from our faults as people, as well as our national faults, is first recognising what we’re doing wrong. Father Gore has his own dark national demons to face as a Canadian, in spite of what our current PM presents to the world. But America – with its long history of military worship and war culture, on top of being a country where mass shootings are forgotten in 5-6 days because of the latest one dominating the news cycle – needs to start taking a hard look at the troublesome violence that makes up a significant part of its DNA.