Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Spoilers, if anyone's interested.

This weekend, I saw a Norwegian film called Kauwboy. It was exactly the right film at the right time.

Last week was a hell of a week for me emotionally, starting with my devastation at Now Is Good and all of the feelings regarding my late sister that it brought up. I was emotionally worn out, and it turns out that was really a good place to be when watching Kauwboy.

It's the story of a 10 year-old boy, Jojo, who finds a jackdaw chick fallen from a tree and takes it home to protect and care for it. But the emotions that linger at the surface and almost refuse to rise to the top are the real story, and here's where I can't talk about it without spoiling the film's revelations.

Throughout the movie, Jojo speaks to his mother on the phone. We don't know much about her, other than she's a singer. We hear her recordings, and Jojo talks to her about how he and his father are, glossing over the messy bits--the father has a temper on occasion, and is especially against Jojo raising the bird, whom Jojo names Jack. What we find out gradually is that Jojo's mother isn't away; she's dead. She's died in an accident, and while the father refuses to grieve, the son refuses to accept that it's happened. His relationship with Jack, then, puts him in the position of being a caregiver, a nurturer, and a teacher. It gives him a connection to something alive and vital that his father is too emotionally closed off to supply and his mother is sadly not around to give him. The way Jojo cares for Jack in secret is at times fraught with tension, but always immediate: without Jojo to care for him, Jack will surely die. But at the same time, caring for Jack gives Jojo confidence and strengthens him.

The feelings are very complex, and the true complexity of them is only gradually revealed. And then comes the big, shocking scene, where Jack is suddenly killed. I assume going into any movie about an animal that the animal is going to die, but when it comes, it's so sudden and shocking that you almost can't comprehend it for a few moments. I assumed I would be devastated for the second weekend in a row, but I actually wasn't. Even as Jack's death reminded me of Thumper's death, which is still so fresh in my mind, I think I was all cried out. But what happened then was that it allowed me to move on from the death and see the real magic of the film, which is the way the death of something Jojo had reared and nurtured and cared for and had an emotional connection with finally allowed him to accept and mourn the death of his mother.

I liked that the film was ultimately about the way death is a part of life, and the way that having someone suddenly taken from us is hard to face, but eventually can be faced. There's no pat, generic happy ending; the triumph is that Jojo and his father both accept what's been taken from them and can finally begin to process their feelings about it instead of running away from them. It's the film I really needed this week, after last week's emotional workout, and I appreciated so much that it didn't shy away from how difficult a child's life can be, especially when that child feels cut off from his emotional support. The realism and matter-of-factness with which a lot of this is approached really saves it from being sentimental or devastating.

It's somehow the most affirming film about death I've ever seen.

1 comment:

Richard Lee said...

It's Dutch.