As the world economy in 2014 slowly begins to right itself after years of depression, the optimistic national conversation of the UK and the USA is already attempting to overshadow the enormous upset felt by so many people during those years of instability. In decades to come the memory of the financial crash will be clouded by the overabundance of glossy superhero films that dominate the output of America during these worrying years, but there will be glimmers of work that cleverly captured the nightmare that the banking collapse instigated.
Blue Ruin (from director Jeremy Saulnier) is a violent reworking of the classic revenge narrative, with a powerful metaphor at its heart concerning the psyche of an America with nothing to lose.
The story begins with a solitary drifter called Dwight (Macon Blair) who, whilst living out of his car around an amusement park in Delaware is told that the man who murdered his parents has been released from prison in his hometown of Virginia. Fearing that his family’s life is in danger, he embarks on a reckless journey to get his revenge and protect his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves).
The film subverts the usual trajectory of a revenge narrative – that would normally show a brutal crime in the first act and then lead up to the retribution in the climactic third act – by instead showing Dwight’s shambolic killing of ex-con Carl Cleland (Brent Werzner) in the first 20 minutes and then depicting the confused aftermath as the Cleland family seek their own retribution.
The latter plot of the film makes reference to the middle-class ordinariness of Dwight before the catastrophic murder of his parents, which makes his decline into homelessness all the more tragic. When in Delaware he develops a skill of breaking into peoples empty houses to enjoy a bath before escaping as they return home. Not only does this foreshadow the later events in the film, but reflects his yearning for suburban home comforts as he is reduced to living in his battered Pontiac car – the possible Blue Ruin of the title.
The disruptive violence that Dwight suffers with the loss of his parents echoes the disruptive violence of a financial crisis. This has pushed him to living off of scraps of food from bins as those around him enjoy the carnival – an apt reflection of the 21st century American class gulf between haves and have-nots.
Without revealing the ending (which is excellent), the violence escalates to tragic Shakespearean levels, yet without ever forcing a moral position on the audience. Dwight embodies the elusive vacuity of D-Fens from Falling Down, but transposed into the same post-recession universe of recent rust-belt America films Out Of The Furnace and The Place Beyond ThePines.
Blue Ruin is essentially a darkly comic morality tale that shows a man with nothing to lose getting an ugly revenge on unsympathetic characters. But the underlying message is that in an environment full of guns, the temptation of quick revenge overpowers rationality...