By Matt Holtmeier
*minor spoilers ahead*
Kelly Reichardt’s latest film, Night Moves (2013), continues the director’s trend of setting films in the Pacific Northwest. Reichardt collaborated once again with Oregonian Jon Raymond on the screenplay for the film, lending the film an aura of authenticity as it relates to the Pacific Northwest – although Reichardt probably knows the area well enough by now! Like most of Reichardt’s films, Night Moves centers on the loss of something fundamental to the subjectivity of the protagonist: an old friendship in Old Joy (2006); a life companion in Wendy and Lucy (2008); masculinity and (literally) the way forward in Meek’s Cutoff (2010). In Night Moves this loss is less corporeal than in these other films. While each character weathers the effects to different degrees, the protagonists in this film struggle with the loss of their own rationale or surety for the destruction of a local dam as an act of environmental activism.
As half the film follows the planning of the bombing of the dam, and the other half the fallout from this act, an air of paranoia pervades the film. The characters must buy truckloads of fertilizer to build their dam-destroying bomb, and post-bombing the group fears they might be ‘found out’ by whatever government agency is tracking them. Jesse Eisenberg’s nervous gestus, in the Brechtian sense, fits this film well, as he comes across simultaneously as paranoid and irrevocably resigned to his choices, even while vocally challenged by other mentor-type characters in the film. What I find most fascinating about this film is the way that this paranoia becomes what Thomas Pynchon and Friedrich Kittler referred to as ‘anti-paranoia’ through the film’s subdued cinematography, acting, and editing. Pynchon writes, “there is… also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long” (434). With paranoia, one assumes they will find the ‘Truth’ that has been obfuscated – Mulder says, “I want to believe,” and we as viewers always hang out the possibility that the global conspiracy/collaboration with aliens will be revealed to us, but in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, narrative directions proliferate to the point where there can be no single Truth in the end. Night Moves resists revealing anything beyond the immediate perception of its characters to the point where we, as viewers, take on their unrequited paranoia, but the film ultimately never delivers the conspiracy.
As I mentioned previously, this anti-paranoia comes through the formal construction of the film, and it shifts attention from the narrative to both the physical and mental environments these characters live in. Fans of Reichardt will recognize her subdued style immediately, with her long takes, focus on labor, and emphasis on environment/bodily gest over action. Eisenberg’s character works and lives on a farming co-op, and the film doesn’t shy away from his day-to-day labors. At one point, the three environmentalists interact with an exuberant camper, but barely even respond to his friendly gestures. After the bombing, there are long shots of Eisenberg staring offscreen intently at the sound of a car – the FBI pulling up to the farm? – but such shots eventually dissipate without confirming any paranoid expectations we might have. Tomas Hachard at NPR called this an “ultimately unsatisfying new film” and I’m not too surprised by this assessment, but I also think this is precisely the point. Whatever paranoid delusions of eco-terrorists or the thriller genre the film might fulfill are replaced with issues far too complicated for narrative summation.
I was fascinated by cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt’s ability to capture these physical/psychological environments in beautiful detail. I posted a few images that illustrate the attention to the environment of the Pacific Northwest, but you really have to see the film to understand the way this is done with the mental landscapes. Dakota Fanning’s character develops pretty obvious rashes as a result of the stress of her anti-paranoia, but I preferred Eisenberg’s watchful gaze as he tries to connect imaginary dots. I also appreciated the honest look at the farming coop culture in the Pacific Northwest, with the film intimating the farm’s location not too far away from Portland. Cascadians might also be interested in the politics of the farming coop and its relation to the federal government. If you’re a fan of Reichardt, you know what you’re getting when you see this film, but I love the style she’s developed that is area-specific without resorting to flashing establishing shots of recognizable monuments.
Matthew Holtmeier is a postdoctoral researcher at Ithaca College. His research interests include the production of political subjects in global film, film and TV in the Pacific Northwest, and the role of belief in science fiction media. He extends his interest in the production of political subjectivities to the Pacific Northwest by looking at the development of a Cascadian identity.