April 05, 2008

Older than America reviewed

Review:  Tragedy masked as a mysteryIn a tragedy, whether it’s Oedipus or Hamlet or six children who die, the crisis event is known from the beginning. The story plays out against the background of our foreknowledge, and the point is not what happens, but how it happens. In “Older,” there’s even a traditional tragic Chorus: the rez guys joking around the fire who have a second life as larger-than-life mystics in the traditional world.

Georgina Lightning’s “Older than America” is a tragedy about an Indian boarding school and its abuses. The setting is a modern American reservation rife with small-town politics.
Some flaws:The plot is driven by a series of events, starting with a second earthquake, that build to the film’s tragic center. The earthquakes reveal the film’s flaw: An earthquake is almost impossible in Minnesota. Other elements are similarly perfunctory. Plot points are overly written, insufficiently shown.

But audiences here were certainly willing to suspend disbelief, to brush off realism, in order to take in the symbolic content of the film. Earthquakes, in this world, are the earth trembling in response to violation. That could happen anywhere, and it’s not tectonic plates that make it happen.
The film's conclusion:When the school’s secret is exposed, the characters are reconciled around the circle of the drum. The doubleness is both accepted and resolved.

It’s an immensely moving moment. The audience, many of whose parents and grandparents had experienced the kind of abusive treatment laid bare in the film, openly wept.
Comment:  Lightning could've addressed the earthquake problem by including a line such as the one in this review. I.e., the quake was "the earth trembling in response to violation."

True, some viewers could've infer this explanation, but many of them wouldn't. It's probably best to make something like this explicit rather than implicit. Otherwise people like me will say, "No earthquakes in Minnesota...plot contrivance."

For more movie reviews, see The Best Indian Movies.

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