AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS
US, 2013, 96 minutes, Colour.
Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine, Nate Parker.
Directed by David Lowery.
That’s quite a question in the title. But whether it is answered is a moot question. The first inclination is to say that the bodies are not saints. This is a film where there are quite a number of bodies, in the context of crime, prison escapes, vengeance.
The film announces that this is a Texas story. The picture of Texas is almost like that of painting, vistas of open fields, sometimes drab landscapes, nothing special. And, maybe, this is the kind of context for the central characters, drab in their way, seemingly nothing special. We are introduced to them as Ruth (Rooney Mara) walks away from home and from her husband, Bob (Casey Affleck). He pleads with her and they go home. She is pregnant. However, they have little time to settle back home when there is a police siege and some shootings, the upshot being Bob sentenced to prison.
The years pass. Ruth’s daughter, Silvie, is now a little girl. She and her mother live in a house provided by Bob’s father (Keith Caradine) who runs a local store. She also receives the attention of one of the local police, Patrick (Ben Foster). But she keeps her mind on Bob, hoping against hope.
Then Bob is able to escape from prison, describing the experience in somewhat mystical terms to his friend, Sweetie (Nate Parker). He is able to dig up money from past robberies and wants to find Ruth and settle down with her and his daughter. Needless to say, this is not going to happen. The mood is pensive and the audience senses that the film is something of an elegy.
The climax comes with a group seeking vengeance on Bob, some shootings, and Ruth left bereft. Perhaps the audience feels a little of the same as this is a film which is character-driven, but also dialogue-driven, with plenty of silences as well, so that while there is some action, there is an overall sombre and reflective tone. One of the regrets is that Casey Affleck has a somewhat inarticulate way of speaking his lines which means that many of them are muffled and the audience does not really know what he is saying.
The film, with its title which, on reflection, sounds more than a little pretentious, aspires to be something of a Texas classic, in the tradition of the early films of, say, Terence Malick.
1. The title? The references? The meaning? The central characters?
2. A Texas story, the open spaces, the towns, shops, homes? The atmosphere of this part of Texas? The overtones of paintings?
3. The musical score, the range of music, the moods, as background to the characters and actions?
4. The screenplay, the emphasis on dialogue, discussion, meanings?
5. The opening, Ruth walking away, Bob and his pursuit, the relationship between the two, her exasperation, his desperation? Back in the house? Their life? The background, the robberies, the buried money? Revealing her pregnancy? the build-up to the shootout? Ruth firing, Patrick and his being injured? The police firing, the death of the brother inside? The decision to go out, the police taking them, Bob and his going to prison?
6. Ruth, with Bob’s father, his giving her the house, the birth of her daughter, with Sylvie and the years passing, her awareness of Bob, Patrick and his continued support and love?
7. Patrick, his place in the police, being shot, his visits, the attachment to Ruth, to Sylvie, his support and love? His continued protection?
8. Bob’s father, the loss of his sons, his embracing Bob, not seeing him for the future, his work in the shop, the visitors and their discussions of the gun, his sitting on the porch, his being shot, Patrick with him as he died?
9. Bob, the scenes in prison, his escape, his explanation, the mystical overtones and his walking out of the prison? The discussions with Sweetie, digging up the money, giving him cash? Sweetie sheltering him? Patrick and the search of the premises, the fragment of the photo, Bob escaping out the window?
10. The men pursuing Bob? Shooting his father? Shooting into the house, Bob and his being wounded? Going to Ruth, their talk, her listening? His death? Sylvie and Patrick, the future and dreams?
11. The film as mixture of action and meditation? A Texas story, American story, Moody story, perspectives on human nature?