Blue Ruin (2013)

When it comes to revenge, no other topic inspires the level of hackneyed simplification as regards how two quintessential quotes get misused. “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Or its preferred variation among the highbrow intelligentsia, “Revenge is a dish people of class eat cold.” Confucian’s more misunderstood quote is equally overused but holds within an overlooked meaning. “Before embarking on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” No where else are the flag-bearing mantras as cringeworthy as with revenge but that goes without saying for a path less trod. In its defense, the latter example is not content with merely restricting the act to just its outcome. It stretches the scope to the series of events likely to cascade from a would be avenger’s choice. Basically, revenge is a Pandora’s box of counter-restitution. A portal to the endless questions to answer for at the end of the rabbit hole, if you will. For the previous quote, I’d always saw its author insinuating eating fancy delicacy, a luxury unaffordable to common folk, which where the people of class exclusiveness comes in. Or cold pizza the following morning, something common folk regularly indulge in. Which may explain the omission in the shorthand version. Either way, as vengeful fantasy is as universal an impulse as lust, the one glaring omission from Maslow’s hierarchy, I’ve come to understand the quote to mean that just like fine wine needs time to age, only a connoisseur would know when to uncork. And though hardly the perfect summation, it gets one thing right… revenge is not something haphazardly undertaken. Despite it being the soliloquy of the hand. This isn’t to say there is a certain level of craftsmanship to uphold, vis-a-vis winemaking, merely the due diligence to maintain your preservation in the end. The right vintage for the occasion? The right moment to strike. What murder kit to use. The cat and mouse aspect of the chase. These go into the process that by the time you’ve mapped it all out, you’ll probably have to reheat the oven, and rekindle the bloodlust. So there is some method to the madness. Personally, I subscribe to the Machiavellian school of thought which, considering its rogue leanings as a governing policy, has no practical relevance to vigilant justice and individual application. So make what you want of your payback, is my disclaimer. Now, Blue Ruin.
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Though not an out-and-out squatter, Dwight lives out of his beat up blue Bonneville. Legally speaking he is. And though his vehicle sits not on four blocks, but on an unoccupied piece of Government of Maryland land by the shore, it is not his preferred mode of transportation. When we first see him he scampers and scurries out of an empty home, just as its owners, and the antithesis of his current self, return. He does keep a charged battery handy but unplugged, making the vehicle solely his preferred place of residence. Shelter and refuge from the elements. Inside, he keeps a flashlight and reads at night. He even stows a portable stove yet is never above edible leftovers. I guess hobos also like to eat out every once in a while. And for money, he collects cans and bottles to recycle en masse — meager returns meaning his is a low key, low maintenance existence. But that’s all fine because in spite of the shaggy mane and unkempt attire, he’s no addict. You see, Dwight is on a self-imposed exile the motives behind which are left ambiguous in parts, and only partly explained through clever exposition over the course of this visually striking piece. It is never implied just how long he’s been slumming it as the dreaded flashback scenes are dropped entirely from director Saulnier’s repertoire. In their stead are the aforementioned exposition and a cryptic, referential treatment of the past in dialogue. But two events help build the vaguest of time frames: the concluding of an old nemesis’ prison sentence, and; a remark about how much his niece and nephew have grown. We’re getting too ahead of ourselves.. Dwight’s profile is relatively below the radar until the cops decide to come aknocking. Except instead of citation papers in hand, this cop had some bad news. News she’d prefer he was with someone he knows when he first hears. Because of present lifestyles choices, that leaves only her.
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Blue Ruin, apart from that revenge preface, is also thematically centered around family — both the ideal and the social unit. Home for Dwight, it turns out, is a short drive to Virginia we’ll soon take in a stunningly captured montage of the car in a rural road featuring cuts to shots first murkier with fog then rain. The house he thought the cop referred to is his childhood home, long vacant since his parents’ deaths. It is not on the itinerary but we get the closest thing—the paraphernalia of youth—for a house is not a home without the requisite apparatus; furnishings, utensils, collectibles. And habitants obviously, but it’s already established mother and father are no more. His belongings, up to its most recently acquired, fit in a box a parent would use for right when you’ve gone to college or first moved out. Well into his thirties today, we can assume, the last hoarded item was collected that long ago. Kept at his sister’s, who refuses to throw out the box despite the indefinite estrangement, he claims to want nothing to do it with. Yet, in a moment of much needed calm, before the storm he’d helped unleash, he succumbs to reluctant nostalgia, and opens its contents. And though we’re never afforded a clear view, it was a very powerful moment because even under normal circumstances, the temptation to rummage through our past by way of personal effects is at worst bittersweet, at best bound to induce an awkward sigh. But what of a memory too searing, too profound for a mere artifact to trigger? One so permanent and thus imbedded more deeply?

Such are the ones we carry around in our psyches, because just a few scenes earlier the brother and sister are reunited over fast food. Although her treat, no pleasantries abound here, for an old traumatizing wound now holds them together—still does as it probably always has. But small talk must be had. “Do you need any money?” Sam will ask. Doesn’t it confound you, not only when in doubt, but when all else has failed, that our tendency to throw money at the problem persists, as if the awkward silence of solutions? She recovers some perspective later and delivers the jarring moment in the film. One that stands out despite a couple ultragraphic deaths and copious volumes of blood. One which stands as the microcosmic embodiment of the film. One worthy of a paraphrasing and a place among revenge axioms. “I’d forgive you if you were crazy. But you’re not. You’re weak.” Indeed, revenge has never been touted as the foolish endeavor it is, draped instead in the false regalia of honor, justice, or in the case of the introductory quotes, cautionary mystique. For those predisposed to waxing philosophical, I feel that blood being thicker than water is ample justification for someone seeking this path, whereby water represents the legal and justice systems. But these words are seldom said of revenge, reserved instead to loyalties.
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I feel I haven’t talked enough about it, glossing over bullet points instead, but for its brisk 90 or so minutes of runtime some of the intrigue in Blue Ruin is better left unspoiled. In spite of the standard, cookie-cutter length, it covers quite a bit of ground—locations, revenge tropes and such. There’s a bit of mind and chess games in between moves and counter moves, not to mention the stellar imagery serving no purpose other than act as a reprieve from the mayhem and tension. There are some minor flaws—too strong a word, but explaining my choice is to ruin the film—but the overall theme of family, and the fierce protective instinct extended to its members ties all else in nearly. There is another scene similar to but not a repeat of when Dwight winds down and peeks into the past through family relics. It hammers home the point about family without broaching heavy-handed territory but I think that’s enough to divulge. I guess I could end on the people behind the film. I haven’t mentioned those people yet. Where are my manners? Directed by Jeremy Saulnier and carried singlehandedly by Macon Blair, these two worked together in Saulnier’s debut, the blandly titled Murder Party. I have no background on it but I’m looking forward to his next project Green Room, set to feature Blair yet again, and Patrick Stewart. What is clear is Saulnier’s penchant for depicting violence. To cap off, Blue Ruin is the perfect example of that indie gem to restore your faith in the notion that in America, when weened off fatty diets of bloated budgets and an insistence on Al-list names and servings of three-act, single-track minded affairs for a change, it is possible to find more than just decent fine dining fare. The catch being they’re as isolated as pockets wherein people prefer to mete out their own justice and keep things in house. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign adds more to my belief that it is the foodie equivalent of films in a landscape of Sonic burger billboard signs and nom•nom•nomics TV spots.