I want us to try again.
It’s a gift that has been carried down through generations, always from mother to daughter. It can break apart any object they can physically see into its core molecules, swirling them around in the air until ready to reform as whatever it was beforehand. A bowl, cigarette, and even a door if need be can get dematerialized through sheer will of spirit—a parlor trick on its surface with the potential for more. But what if “more” means corruption? What if “more” means harming outsiders who judge you as a threat? Being “other” not only puts you at risk of abuse, but also of being pushed to the edge of control wherein you’re forced to use what makes you special to defend your inalienable right to be free.
That’s why this family has stayed isolated miles away from their nearest Midwestern American neighbor. They write down their experiences to learn and pass down insights about their power so every subsequent woman can have an easier time adjusting to what makes them different. No matter how much love is present, though, a prison is still a prison. And as the decades move forward and technological advancements allow us to see just how big the world is outside of our window, escape takes on new and more dangerous forms. Where one might hope to leave that house simply to experience romance and add to their life, another might look to subtract from it—forsaking what she has in order to achieve what she’s told she can’t.
This universal drive for independence is at the back of Julia Hart‘s Fast Color. There’s the mother’s want to protect her daughter and the daughter’s yearning to rebel. Each battle drives a wedge between them as the former tightens her grip and the latter grows more defiant. Sometimes the pain exacerbates to the point of needing to be numbed, the responsibility and fear of being someone unlike any other weighing upon her chest until it’s she who breaks. And if the family has one truth it lives by courtesy of their ability’s limitations: If something is broken, it stays broken. A bowl can be reconstituted if your mind broke it. But if it fell and shattered via nothing more than gravity, it must remain that way.
Unfortunately for Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), those words seal her fate since it’s she who is broken. Rather than wield her power like in youth, the increasing dread within her has created a dam of sorts bottling it inside. Because that energy must be released and her focus can no longer control its target, the result is a seizure-formed earthquake shifting tectonic plates beneath her epicenter. Only through drugs can she hold that destruction in check, but only without can she begin to figure out a solution … if one even exists. The more quakes arising where science says they shouldn’t, the easier the government can track her. And with a future in crisis, they’ll do whatever is necessary to see whether her gift is a cause or solution.
So this is where Hart and co-writer (husband Jordan Horowitz) begin their story: Ruth on the run. Her struggle has obviously been exacerbated each day she’s been alone on the road to find shelter and tie herself to the bed in preparation for her next tremor. Maybe it’s destiny that has brought her back home with the forces on her tail closing in (Christopher Denham‘s Bill at the forefront) or maybe it’s just her subconscious drawing her back to the last place she felt safe. Either way, she has nowhere to go and nobody to trust besides her mother (Lorraine Toussaint‘s Bo). It’s therefore back to the place where past and future (her own daughter Lila as played by Saniyya Sidney) converge to hopefully provide answers.
The result is a nicely subdued science-fiction drama that calls to mind the simplicity in scope and wealth of heart shown in Jeff Nichols‘ films. Fast Color could be described as a hybrid of sorts between that director’s Take Shelter (in style and economy) and Midnight Special (in high concept mystery and theatrics). Hart really leans into the Midwest aesthetic with the help of an additional environmental factor making things even bleaker than a beat-down small town in rural America. Drought has taken hold of everything with water marked-up to an astronomical premium to ensure conservation. It’s the type of problem that appears irreversible: broken like Ruth to mirror just how important proving her family’s maxim incorrect is. One woman’s survival might be the world’s survival.
Those are sentiments we need today with our current administration doing everything to insulate our country as though it is superior to all others. We ignore climate change, close our borders, reward the rich, and kill the poor. While we still live by the notion that we’re only as strong as our weakest link, we’ve stopped trying to build that weakness up to strength and instead started to try cutting it off, ambivalent to the consequences. That’s how fear manifests on both sides of the equation. The “other” fears the establishment’s wrath while the establishment fears being replaced by the “other”. One fights to breathe while the other fights for comfort. Rather than give everyone the means to save our world, those with them simply watch it crumble.
How do we enact change? By embracing our power to do so. While Ruth and her family must worry about these external forces bearing down, a lot of their problems were born internally. The systemic problems within our society have become so ingrained in our citizens that they begin to underestimate themselves. The idea that one person can’t make a difference is a line fed by authority to maintain the status quo. Overturning it feels Sisyphean because believing we, as individuals, do matter is contrary to what we’ve been told. That’s why rebellions are thought of as awakenings. They’re about relinquishing the chains for which we let ourselves be bound to refuse the spotlight exposing our might will ultimately demand. The metaphor here is hardly hidden.
It doesn’t have to be when it’s so smartly interwoven with the fabric of such a personal narrative concerning a single family under duress. With a villain who maintains humanity even if helpless to combat his superiors’ immorality with it (Denham is the blur that condones oppressing rights for the greater good) and a sheep in wolves clothing to show personal connection is paramount to diving below propaganda (David Strathairn‘s Ellis), we see the duplicity of America’s still homogenized leadership core. And through Mbatha-Raw, Toussaint (the best part of the film), and Sidney we receive the courage to prevail. True power is being able to put the gun down because using it only proves it was in control. We’re only as strong as who we are without it.
courtesy of Lionsgate