Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why I like Night Moves

There is some discussion whether Night Moves is "politically retrograde." The full quote, from Louis Proyect, on the Counterpunch  site: 
In an interview with Indiewire, Reichardt stated that the film was not about politics but about people, the same nonsense I have heard from other directors involved with politically retrograde productions. For example, that’s the same thing Katherine Bigelow said about the Islamophobic “The Hurt Locker”.
Not sure what quote he's drawing on, but I've read Reichardt elsewhere say that "it's not a morality play, it really is a character film;" so I'm inclined to trust him that she has tried to encourage a depoliticized reading of the film. All the same, I'm not quite sure what his objection to Night Moves is, exactly; he seems to be comparing it against some other film he'd like to see made, but that seems a rather counterproductive place to criticise films from. You have to meet a film on its own terms, and you have to grapple with the themes it brings to the table, not the themes you think it should have. Proyet is so concerned with the film he thinks Reichardt should have made, in fact, that I'm not sure he gets the film she has made, which doesn't seem, to me, to be politically retrograde in the slightest. Instead, the film deals with a very difficult and important question when it comes to "blowing shit up," as the director phrases it. Such actions as Reichardt's characters engage in have a cost. They put people at risk, and they can have an even more disastrous effect on the lives of the people who undertake them, which needs to be seriously weighed (I write this as someone who has talked personally to two members of the so-called Squamish Five (AKA Direct Action) and interviewed the person accidentally injured by them. In all three cases, there continue to be consequences and costs, still felt now, nearly forty years later). Reichardt's film - besides offering us glimpses of different slices of the environmentalist movement (and of course some very memorable images of the Pacific Northwest) - seems to me to be speaking in sympathy with exactly those audience members who might be tempted towards radicalism, and asking them to soberly reflect on - or at least locate themselves in - the scenario that plays out, which - nevermind the politics - is a reasonably realistic one, and therefore worth considering (I would hope anyone who planted a bomb would give more thought to the possibility of people getting hurt than these guys do, but - well, like I say, the Squamish Five example is kind of instructive here, eh?). I don't think she's saying anything very clear-cut about whether people should or should not engage in political action, but she's definitely providing a sobering consideration of what can happen, and inviting people to consider it without kidding themselves.

I think that's a valuable thing, not in the least "retrograde," unless you're so ideologically blinkered that you insist that anytime a character is on screen performing an action associated with revolution they must be heroic, beautiful, and so forth. If what Mr. Proyect is saying is that Night Moves is a bad propaganda film, I would have to agree with him. But in fact I don't think it's trying to BE a propaganda film; I think it's doing more subtle things than that, more interesting things. And it seems to assume from the outset a sympathy with its characters, which lasts to the final images of the film. Your closing thoughts about Josh are - spoiler alert, if you need it - not what a horrible human being he is, but how totally and utterly fucked his life is now. Telling people not to end up like him - and to think long and hard about what they do, so that doesn't happen - doesn't seem at all the same as telling them not to act. 

And yet I think Reichardt is wrong, too. I think there's something in narrative where it's nearly impossible to  tell a story and not make it a "morality play" on some level, particularly in a film that deals with the consequences of a morally complex thing like ecoterrorism, but also in any genre film in general. I do think there's a morality to Night Moves - and one I don't object to in the slightest. There's also many beautiful images, a very powerful sense of suspense at times, and some really beautiful soundtrack work from Jeff Grace. I was a bit concerned before watching it a second time that the film would not hold up, that I would like it less than I did on first blush. In fact, I liked it more. It's sort of a must-see movie, folks. (If you see it, do let me know, here if possible, what you thought of it). 

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