February Films: Spotlight on the marginalised

Our past lives within us. Our life experiences not only form our identities but inform us which identity is best to present to others.

The shadows left by society’s construction and labelling of difference as deviance are still with us, and three films this month tell personal stories of those marginalised by what Michael Foucault denounces as ‘assumed reason’.

In Barry Jenkin’s film Moonlight, the main character is marginalised on three counts. Chiron is poor, black and gay. We see him at three ages as he struggles to find his place in the world. At nine years of age, he is known as Little (Alex Hibbert). He is bullied by other children who have identified his as ‘different’ and called names he doesn’t know the meaning of. Little’s only friend tries to help him not to be ‘so soft’.

With his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) becoming more addicted to drugs, 16 year-old Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is a gangly youth who tries not to be noticed. His mother’s drug supplier becomes a substitute father. Juan (Mahershala Ali) tells Chiron that at some point he has to make up his mind who he wants to be. But Chiron knows he wants to ‘do a lotta things that don’t make sense’.

By the time we see him as the young adult Black (Trevante Rhodes), he has perfected his tough exterior but when he meets up with his childhood friend Kevin (Andre Holland), all the feelings he has worked hard to suppress come rushing back. The struggle he has put into suppressing his sexuality has no impact on who he really is.

The audience is so close to the main character that they are absorbed into the three stages of Chiron’s life. It is deeply affecting as the audience feels the heartbreaking struggle Chiron goes through to alienate his very core.

In the terrifying thriller Split, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, James McAvoy’s character is spoiled for choice. Kevin embodies several characters including 9 year-old Hedwig, nice guy Benny, somewhat controlling Patricia and scheming bad guy Dennis. Living with dissociative identity disorder (formally known as multiple personality disorder), Kevin kidnaps three teenage girls. As the more evil personalities gain control, some of the alter egos reach out to their therapist Dr Karen Buckley (Betty Buckley).

McAvoy is absolutely mesmerising as he morphs into different personalities that inhabit the troubled Kevin. His accent, posture, facial expression and even a change in physicality give credence to the several levels of Kevin’s survival. Interestingly, childhood abuse is pivotal in forming more than one of the characters in this film.

It is such a great pity that Shyamalan had no idea how to conclude the gripping narrative and it just slides off into ridiculousness. Although the Hollywood horror film has been criticised for trivialising complex mental illness and depicting people living with dissociative identity disorder as violent villains, Split is an interesting film at many levels.

Like Crazy, directed by Paolo Virzì, is an Italian film set in Tuscany. The extroverted Beatrice (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) teams up with fragile introvert Donatella (Micaela Ramazzotti) to escape from a psychiatric hospital. Their rocky road trip reveals the reasons that the women have been institutionalised.

This bitter-sweet comedy drama continually reminds the audience of Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise. Amongst the laughs runs a disturbing thread about social conditions that push people to the edge and the treatments that are used for damaged people who are labelled crazy.

Lezly Herbert

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