In The Shadows

In The Shadows is an old-school dystopia, like, 19th century dystopia. The central character is one of a community of miners, who live and work in the ravine of this quarry where the mine and its processing plant stands. Their entire life is focused on toil in this difficult and back-breaking work, for which they receive no apparent recompense other than food and lodging.

The visual style of this film is its main star, the set design, the props, the costume. It is beautifully ugly. Everything is mocket, decayed, rusted, or lichened. People sleep on top of old boilers or water tanks. Loose and snaking wires curl everywhere, powering the coal machines and the omnipresent surveillance equipment. Everything is pipes, or pistons, or cogs. Visually it reminds me of things like the geometry in Katsuhiro Otomo’s Domu, and the panopticon, and stuff like 1984.

There is an unseen management, who gaze on every aspect of their lives through cameras, and who are feared like the wrath of God. In their faceless omniscience, their random health inspections can lead to the termination of contract, or transfer, to a fate unknown. You daren’t get sick, daren’t get injured, daren’t slow your work.

The main character, the miner, is able to successfully pass off an injury at the beginning of the film, allowing him to question for the first time the powers that be. If they are not all-knowing, then they may not be all-powerful.

Tugging at that thread leads him to the possibility that the greatest tool oppression has is our willingness to comply with it.

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This is a beautiful film. I loved the family. There is such warmth. I loved the granny most of all.

Minari is the story of Jacob and Monica, who chase the American dream by settling down to make their own farm in Arkansas. Their two children David and Anne take to it and love discovering this rural bounty, as a change from the city in California. Their grandma soon joins them, and they get to work on their future.

The drama in the whole film hangs on how invested you are in seeing this family succeed. This little nuclear family, 2.5 kids, adrift in a sea of fields, cling together and attempt to thrive in a new element. This film wouldn’t work were it not for the warmth that radiates from their little home, and how endearing the characters become. Only then can the peril of such everyday stakes such as debt and drought take such a riveting hold.

I loved the relationship between David and his grandma. She is brilliant. She sits around watching wrestling, teaches him how to play cards, and swears when she loses. He is shy of her at first, thinking she is not like the grandmas are on tv, but eventually warms to her as she encourages his more adventurous and mischievous nature, and they become close. Makes your heart ache.

It reminds me of things like Jean de Florette and Willa Cather’s book O Pioneers! because despite being set in the 1980s, the message of toil, sacrifice, and attempting to build a better life for yourself and your family is timeless.