I have a lot of movies on my Netflix queue, far more than I can take the time to watch. So about every three months I’ll reserve a Saturday when Scott’s at work and I have no other plans and maybe it’s raining, and curl up on the couch and cull through them. I like culling. Some of my queued movies are so bad they last only thirty seconds before boop aand delete. Ahh. Others are iffy and can make it fifteen minutes or so before the boop, and still others hold my attention through to the end.
But very so often a movie will come along that sparks my imagination to the point where I’ll watch it by myself ten times in a row, then tell everyone I love about it so they’ll want to watch it too, preferably with me, on my eleventh or twelfth or fifteenth time. If I’m exaggerating at all, it’s only in the literal sense. In my heart, the film loops continually. The second to last one that hit me like this was Adam’s Apples, and that was two years ago.
The last one to do it was Mad Bastards.
Mad Bastards is an Australian movie about a young boy and the father he’s never met. Both of them struggle with deep anger and the propensity to express it violently–the father in fighting, the son in lighting fires. The father, TJ, lives in Perth and has reached the end of his rope, rejected by his family of origin, without friends and on the verge of arrest. At the urging of his imprisoned brother, and with nothing left to live for in the city, TJ decides to travel upcountry to meet his 13-year-old son Bullet, who lives in Five Rivers, a town in the northern part of Australia, Aborigine country. Unbeknownst to TJ, Bullet has been arrested for setting a house on fire and as a result, in lieu of jail, has been assigned to a two-week camp for “run amok” boys in the wilderness. And so they begin their own, personal walkabouts–Bullet in the desert and TJ on the long trek across country–each finding himself and finally the other along the way.
Also key to the story is Bullet’s grandfather, Tex, the Five River’s sheriff, who has helped to raise the boy, and has tried to be a pillar of strength and model of good behavior to his family and the town and its men. As he deals with the ramifications of the arrival of his grandson’s wayward father, he is given the opportunity to offer forgiveness to him, and a chance to start afresh. His path parallels the others’ in its own unique way.
The movie beautifully presents the act of acceptance–both by others and of one’s responsibility–as a means of dispelling rage. Bullet’s rite of passage was through survival in the desert and the committed presence of his father. TJ’s was through his commitment to Bullet and his acceptance into the family and clan. Interestingly, they both went through actual performed rites, tangible illustrations of what had occurred internally. Rites are touch points, solid reminders of one’s process, and because of that they’re important.
Other colorful characters round out the story, the most essential of which are the traveling musicians who are woven throughout: The Pigram Brothers, Alex Lloyd, and assorted others, all of them genuine Australian treasures. The soundtrack is so intrinsic to the movie that it wouldn’t be the same without it, and what a joy to see the musicians actually perform the music that usually plays in the background. It was done so well that it felt organic, not a distraction at all.
Every one of the songs was wonderful but here’s my favorite. I just want to crawl into it and stay there and never leave. The video features a few scenes from the movie so you can get a feel for it:
I was thinking through why I love Mad Bastards so much (and Adam’s Apples, whose main protagonist is a hardened neo-Nazi)… It has to do with rites of passage, which we are sorely missing in our culture, but mostly it has to do with redemption. I LOVE redemption stories. No matter how badly you fuck up, there’s always hope.
Also, there’s something in me that responds to huge big men with rage issues. I know, it would be dangerous if I acted on this in real life instead of restricting it to the movies, but it’s true, I can’t help it. It makes perfect psychological sense, though. I know myself well enough to realize that that rage is in ME and they only reflect or inhabit it. As TJ said, “There’s a little man inside me with an ax,” and I know what he means. That little man has always been in me, but being who I am, a woman who from childhood was taught to be sweet and compliant, I’ve never felt free enough to express it. These big huge angry men have no problem expressing it, and in fact have to take the trip backwards toward gaining control of it. I’ve had to come from the opposite direction, and learn to express and not suppress it… The hope is that we’ll meet each other somewhere in the middle, where our anger can be used to benefit and not hurt us or others. That’s where we can dance.
Love to you.