This movie was so intense and filled with raw emotion that I am still thinking about it 2 weeks later, which is probably a writer’s and director’s dream. The whole movie was an emotional rollercoaster and I didn’t know how to feel when I walked out of the classroom. Once I got home, I went on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes to see what other people thought of this movie, and I was stunned and confused to find out that it had almost perfect ratings on both sites. After letting this movie sink in for a few days, I came to the conclusion that I was put off by this movie because of how real it was. Real life is not the most glamorous story to tell, but because this movie doesn’t lie is why people love it.
The story focuses on the Hekes, a dysfunctional Maori family. They live in a low income housing development in the outskirts of Auckland, New Zealand. The father, Jake, is recently unemployed and is an alcoholic with a temper. The mother, Beth, tries her best to keep her family together, but is abused by Jake. As for the children, the two youngest siblings are not as well developed characters and do not contribute that much to the plot. The oldest son, Nig, despises his father and joins a street gang, probably in hopes to fulfill the sense of belonging he never had growing up. The second son, Mark, nicknamed Boogie, is in trouble with the law, and gets sent away by child services to a welfare home. The oldest daughter, Grace, is forced to grow up fast and take care of her two younger siblings. Despite being surrounded by negative influences, she dreams of being independent rather than being a wife. She often writes stories and accounts of her personal life in her journal. Because she is the only glimmer of hope in this movie, it was absolutely heart-wrenching to watch her life fall apart after she was raped.
Most movies and tv shows skirt around serious topics like domestic abuse and rape, either by cutting the scene before it gets too violent or just hinting that something is wrong. This movie shows everything, which was in a sense refreshing that they chose not to hide the violence, but at the same time it was almost uncomfortable to watch.
While the most prevalent themes were alcoholism and physical and sexual abuse, there is an underlying theme of diminishing Maori pride. Maoris “once were warriors,” but now they are reduced to living in a ghetto full of poverty and crime. When we see Boogie in the welfare home, we get a glimpse of Maori heritage, but we do not see any other traditions until the funeral scene. A pivotal point in the story is when Jake reveals that he is from a lower Maori social class than Beth, and she ran away from home to be with him. I started to piece together that might be where his anger stems from. He has been told he is worth nothing his whole life, so he puts on this macho personality (with the help of a few drinks) and tries to prove that he isn’t just from a “long family of slaves.”
The cinematography really sells the truth of the story, with unwavering shots of violence and the true, painful emotions the family is going through. Also, I have never seen such bold choices for the text on screen. The credits in the beginning were all over the place, including different colors and sizes. Most modern movies do not have an end card, but this one practically screams in your face that it is the end. The opening shot is my favorite scene, because it starts the movie with a picture perfect landscape of the New Zealand countryside, but as the camera slowly zooms out it reveals that the real setting is completely opposite. That picture perfect landscape is just that: a picture. More specifically, it is just a billboard on the side of the freeway next to a sad looking town. I like to think this scene embodies a bigger message the director was trying to get across, something along the lines of having to see life for how it is, or life isn’t always pretty.