A spellbinding mystery in Glasgow
If you want to put it kindly you could say that I’m blessed with a high level of cinematic innocence. You could also say that I’m too dumb to figure out anything by myself, an easy victim to any prank the screenwriter can come up with.
Do you want to keep me in darkness? I won’t see a thing until you decide to turn on the light. Do you want to make me go in one direction and then all of a sudden open a crack in the ground and toss me away somewhere else? Go ahead; I’m all at your mercy.
Sometimes my slow thinking is a bit of a burden, most recently in the case of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, where I had issues putting it all together even as the movie had ended and all the clues had been given out. But for most movies I think it’s a blessing. The ride of a movie like Incendies or The Skin I Live In becomes so much more enjoyable if you make it the way it’s intended, getting that lovely dizzying feeling in the stomach at the major reveal points.
A mystery to be solved
Andrea Arnold’s drama/thriller Red Road isn’t a movie that builds up towards One Big Twist like in The Sixth Sense, but if you’re innocent (or slow) like me, there is a mystery to be solved and it wasn’t until towards the very end of the film that all the pieces fell into place for me.
There’s nothing remarkable about Jackie, who works as an operator of surveillance cameras in Glasgow. So why is it that she becomes obsessed with a man that she spots on the monitor one day? Why is she following him around? They seem to have some sort of connection in the past, but in what way? Does she fear him, hate him or is she sexually attracted to him? It appears to be a little bit of everything at the same time.
Everything is explained eventually and when the movie was over I couldn’t resist going back to re-watch some of the scenes that had left me puzzled. In the light of what I knew by now I couldn’t believe how slow I had been on grasping her motivations. But again – I guess I have nothing to complain about in that aspect. It was meant to be a mystery and with me it worked as intended.
There’s one thing I wonder after watching this: is it only me that thinks it would be creepy to live in a city that is covered by surveillance cameras like it appears to be in Glasgow? It might be a cultural thing. In the movie everyone seems to take it for granted and perhaps it is a natural thing to people in Britain. Last summer I did a long train journey through Scotland and ended up in a conversation with a couple in their 60s. We came to talk about the issue of cameras and they were baffled how someone could question them. Referring to the terror deeds in the London underground some years ago, they considered them absolutely necessary to be able to walk in the streets with peace in mind.
I on my hand couldn’t walk in the streets with peace in mind if I knew that every step I took was monitored by someone like Jackie, someone who would know if I as much as picked my nose.
But going back to the movie what did I think of it?
Since this was Andrea Arnold’s debut movie, it’s natural to compare it to her next one, Fish Tank, and I’d have to say that while Fish Tank was praised by the critics, I liked Red Road better. It might be that I like to see a little bit more of a traditional narrative, a story that engages me and characters that I care for and Red Road has all of this.
Like in Fish Tank there are explicit sex scenes and if you’re sensitive about such, you should consider yourself warned. It’s on par with some of the sex in Shame, or if you ask me, it’s even more explicit. Since there are scenes where people seem to enjoy what you’re doing, it feels a lot more intimate and at one point bordering to porn. For my own part I’m ok with it, as long as it’s sex between adults. In Fish tank it was a teenage girl getting used by an adult, and that’s something I really can’t stand watching, which probably has to do with that I’m a mother of teenage girls myself.
I’d also like to talk a little about Jackie. She’s not an easy person to get to know. From the start she appears to be a closed person. There’s an aura of numbness to her and no one is allowed to come near, not even the viewers. She watches the world at a distance, through her camera. But as the movie moves on we realize that there’s more to her on the inside – strength, ice-cold determination, vulnerability and pain. Without using any overly big gestures, without spoiling the mystery, Kate Dickie manages to convey all of this. I was impressed by her performance and I was happy to see that she’ll appear in Prometheus later this year. I wonder if her lovely Scottish will be allowed in space?
All in all I liked Red Road quite a bit. What starts out as a mystery ends up in a drama and as I realized the true nature of their relationship I was gripped by it and I might even have shed a tear or two.
Red Road (Andrea Arnold, UK, 2006) My rating: 4/5