I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE & Justice in the Real World

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. Directed & Written by Macon Blair.
Starring Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, David Yow, Jane Levy, Devon Graye, Christine Woods, & Robert Longstreet.
Film Science/XYZ Films
Not Rated. 93 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2
img_0007Ever since seeing him in the fantastic indie Murder Party, Macon Blair draws me to his work. Just a couple years ago Jeremy Saulnier went ahead and gave him the spotlight in the story of amateur but passionate revenge, Blue Ruin, and last year Blair also turned up as a neo-Nazi with a heart still beating somewhere deep down in the immensely impressive Green Room.
A year after, Blair comes to us via Netflix with I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, starring Melanie Lynskey (who along with her role in “The Birthday Party” from anthology horror movie XX is experiencing a big surge in her great career) and Elijah Wood. Channelling energy no doubt gleaned from his time working in front of the camera for Saulnier, Blair writes and directs like he’s been doing it for ages. The pacing, the directing, his tense, darkly comic, and at many times his cathartic script all make for an inventive debut feature. Even better, the timing of this film is on the nose; when North America’s been gripped by a steady stream of hate billowing out of the aftermath from the 2016 U.S. elections. I don’t think Blair anticipated such relevance, and wanted to just make a solid crime-thriller. Despite authorial intent, his work feels perfectly at home in this world heading on from 2017, surely expressing the feelings of many Americans in the story’s reluctant yet driven to the brink protagonist.
img_0008Everyone is an asshole. And dildos.”
The opening moments are awesomely comic and dark, as well. From an old lady’s vulgar last words to an awkward parking lot encounter, a look of existential frustration on the face of our protagonist Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) as oblivious shoppers cut in front of her in the cashier line or don’t bother picking up items they knock off shelves, to dog shit left on her lawn and a random man in a bar ruining the latest book in a series she’s reading – Ruth’s introduction to the viewer is a concise explanation of the film’s title. Watching her life in these short, informative bursts during the opener is a proper visual thesis.
Blair’s story is at once familiar and totally unique in its own skin, as we see the age old tale of person pushed to the limits of what their humanity and pride can tolerate. Ruth refuses victimhood any longer. After suffering the myriad of small injustices offered by the world on a daily basis, she snaps when a truly shitty act of criminality forces her past the point of silence, towards reclaiming her life via vengeance. Only, as in real life, the film shows us how even well-intentioned revenge doesn’t always go as planned. Perhaps the greatest aspect of I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is its dedication to reality, in that it refuses to deny the messiness of being human.
img_0009Ruth: “What are we doinghere, this world?”
Tony: “Trying to be good. Or be better.”
A large focus of the plot becomes the idea that, in today’s society (and for a long time), the focus lies more on what a victim must do to prevent being victimised, rather than preventing and punishing criminals properly. We see this particularly in the case of rape victims, which contemporary internet culture and social media has made even worse, as women who’ve been sexually assaulted and raped often hear what THEY should have done instead of society working on the men who commit such atrocities.
For instance, the police officer assigned to Ruth’s case all but refuses to take her seriously. All because she left her door open. This is just about the epitome of the idea that victims are treated like they’ve done something wrong. The cop keeps bringing up the fact she left the door open, so it negates her troubles; there are better things to do for cops than worrying about people who are asking for it. And that’s the bottom line, that the police, sometimes, would rather blame someone for what they did to supposedly bring on the crime than do work to find the criminals responsible. Because sure, she left the door open, that’s still not an invitation to be robbed – robbery is still illegal – exactly how a woman getting too drunk or wearing sexy clothes is NOT an invitation to assault or rape or anything else. Not sure if this is what Blair was getting at. Regardless, he gets to the heart of the issue with Ruth’s journey towards civilising her small pocket of the world. And further than that, how the police won’t help and make it harder for her to find justice, we see how many people in this crazy world are pushed to take matters into their own hands and find vigilante justice.
img_0010There’s so much, too much, to love. A scene involving an old man pawnbroker morphs from a hilariously sneaky scene into something more surreal, slightly horrifying, though entirely funny in a grim sense. Then there’s one bloody, climactic moment of pure violent madness before the last few scenes that works wonders. Continually, from plot events to bloody violence, the film sticks to the idea of real life. Events occur as in real life: spontaneous, weird, ugly, brutal. The plot heads in unexpected, dangerous directions, as Ruth winds up from where she’d ever anticipated at the beginning, reflected in the blood and cracked windpipes and stabbed stomachs Blair offers up on screen.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore has everything I expected. One of the most fun, and equally wild, film experiences I’ve had over the past year, definitely a contender for the films I love most at the end of 2017. Lynskey is pitch perfect in the lead, both innocent and strong in her own right, flanked by Elijah Wood in a role he owns; the others in the cast fill it out with class.
Blair does more than I could’ve imagined. I knew his debut would go over well because he’s got an old school sensibility about him as an actor; this translates to his directing with force. Every move of the story feels expertly paced, each scene directed and shot with precision. A crime-thriller that resonates with the modern state of America. Plus, yet another huge reason why Netflix deserves credit for letting directors – from TV shows to fictional and documentary features – take the reins of their vision and steer it how they see fit.

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Come Get It in the Yarbles: Criminality in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

A Clockwork Orange. 1971. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Anthony Burgess & Kubrick.
Starring Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates, Warren Clarke, Adrienne Corri, Carl Duering, Paul Farrell, Clive Francis, Michael Gover, James Marcus, Aubrey Morris, Godfrey Quigley, & Sheila Raynor. Warner Bros./Hawk Films.
Rated R. 136 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Sci-Fi

★★★★★
POSTER There’s no doubt certain films stick in one’s mind after first seeing them. Stanley Kubrick is a director to whom I was introduced by my best friend. Before ever seeing The Shining, he showed me A Clockwork Orange. We were about 11. Afterwards, I was never the same. Not that it warped my mind. Not at all. It opened my mind to creativity, to the splendour of artistry in film. No longer was my 11-year-old mind filled with kids movies like Angels in the Outfield or any of the movies that were big while I was a young boy. I’d discovered the grown up world of movies. Kubrick was my way in, and this was the first of his work I’d ever experienced.
A Clockwork Orange is all too often dismissed by those who don’t like it as too violent and cruel, a real dastardly slice of cinema. And no doubt about it, this is one mad work of crime in a dystopian near vision of Britain. However, everything serves its purpose. There is nothing here, even the most infamous of its scenes where Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) prepares to commit an atrocious act of assault on a woman while belting out “Singin’ In the Rain”, that does not feel rightfully in its place. Above all else remember that though there may be “ultraviolence” and all kinds of other terrifying insanity, this is at its core satire concerning the way we see criminal rehabilitation, how government use of psychological conditioning is merely a Band-Aid rather than a permanent solution. Of most importance is that Kubrick attacks all types of government, no side is safe, as his film alongside the writing of Anthony Burgess points their satirical darkness at all of society, asking the questions through Alex, his droogs, and all the terror of their adventures.
Pic1 I love the way things look and feel very dystopian without anything overly elaborate in terms of set pieces. Most of the sets look proper, but there’s also a pervasive feeling of trash everywhere, run down buildings and parking lots, general chaos in the streets and throughout the buildings amongst the city in which Alex lives. The small sci-fi bits come in with the modern look of the furniture, the shops, the various 1970s-looking stuff that almost does have a futuristic feel on its own.
An interesting sequence happens when Alex is first listening to Ludwig Van Beethoven. He hears the music and Kubrick catches the Christ statuette, nails in its wrists and blood seeping out, almost in gunshot pattern. Bang, bang, bang, edited at various speeds. To me, the way Jesus is out in the open and prominent in the shot as well is due to the personality of Alex, how he is a criminal and sins yet keeps a statue like that; he is delusional enough to believe having a Chris statue and listening to classical music makes him cultured. Similar to the titular clockwork orange, he is a human on the outside, organic and real, while on the inside he’s a mechanised bit of equipment. Even before the conditioning he receives Alex is essentially a machine: appearing human, underneath he is monstrous. Afterwards, his monstrosity is still there it’s only covered with another layer. Same sin, different packaging.
More interesting is when Alex talks with the priest in prison. The priest tells him about morality and goodness, that they are not implanted or created in a person. They are chosen. This directly foreshadows exactly the trajectory of Alex’s path to come. He’s never truly rehabilitated, and this is one of the largest comments Burgess and Kubrick try to make. That certain criminals, such as the sociopathic Alex and others like him, are beyond rehabilitation, and that sometimes rehabilitation is not even that. In the end, Alex becomes assimilated into another form of criminality. He’s calmed down just enough to make him suitable for a possible life of politics down the road, something bigger. So the concept of criminality in A Clockwork Orange extends beyond Alex and the droogs. We are to understand that criminals are everywhere, not only on the street. It’s all a matter of appearance, how things look on the outside. Again, the title of the film and the original novel comes into play, as what’s on the outside must feel genuine, and beneath it all lies the mechanical, robotic heart.
Pic2 Kubrick makes this into a genuine post-modern creation. There’s an amazingly threaded mixture of high and low culture. Alex himself is the post-modern male, at once he listens to Beethoven and other classical music (though Ludwig Van is his top man), sings songs from musicals, all the while he’s out perpetrating a rape and committing other extreme acts of violence. Meanwhile, the scenes themselves have this exact same atmosphere of post-modernity. As the violence, the sex between Alex and two young women, all the low brow hideousness happens, Kubrick opts to go for his usually well placed inclusion of classical pieces. In this way moments that might normally appear completely dark and sinister come off as darkly humorous. This whole concept of high and low culture in one whole is again an element playing into the overall theme of appearances, the hidden face of the criminal, and so on.
Something that helps is the fact everything is shot so well. Cinematographer John Alcott helps Kubrick capture each end of the spectrum. To start, most of the first half is filled with brash, garish looking sets from the Moloko to Alex’s room to the shops where he met the two women. Everything is so vibrant you can almost reach out and touch it with your bare hands. Then there’s the more clinical portions of the film where Alex is being rehabilitated, everything is quite stark in comparison to the earlier brightness. The film’s palette of colours changes in the various sections. In this part as Alex goes from the prison to the scientific facility where they plan on rehabilitating him, the palette becomes more muted, along with a hospital-like feeling with lots of white and vivid colours though shot in darker, often blue filters. Once Alex regresses to his old criminal behaviour there’s a switch back to the garishness of the film’s first half. We return to the modern, gaudy furniture in one of those 1970s-near future British homes. In that sense as well, Kubrick brings everything full circle: the story, Alex, criminality, and the whole visual aesthetic.
Pic3 This impressively effective, darkly comic satire is one of the best of the ’70s. One of Kubrick’s best and in my top three favourites of his filmography. A Clockwork Orange has lots of disturbing subject matter and thematic material on the surface. If you dig in you’ll find depth in all of it. There are many comments within about the nature of criminality, how the government deals with it and if they may in fact make it worse, as well as a whole host of other things. Anthony Burgess’ novel is a groundbreaking work of writing, just as Kubrick makes the film adaptation into an equally groundbreaking work of cinema. There are plenty points to be made. You suss out the ones which make the most sense to you. For me, it’s all about that scene where Alex is being shown off, supposedly rehabilitated in full, and the priest steps in: he lays everything out for us, plain as day. Although, in the film as in life nobody listens, or nobody hears.
One thing I know for sure? This is one of the greatest films of all-time. It’s fine if you don’t think so, but I could mine this for days and find tons more to talk about. Judge for yourself. Personally, I believe Kubrick makes profound points about law, order, and so much more swirling around the two concepts. And Alex, he is a warning, a result, an effect to which we all should be paying attention.