Have I watched anything new lately? Let me think… I guess it depends on your definition of “new.”
The fourth definition in the Oxford English Dictionary defines new as anything “unfamiliar, strange” to a person. Think of the OED as the nerdy Urban Dictionary.
Anyways, I’ve seen a film that will be new to you, dear reader, and it is called “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore.” This seemingly sleepy yet deceptively vibrant indie flick graced the Netflix stage in 2017. The film was written and directed by Macon Blair (“Green Room”). Funnily enough, I watched both this and “Green Room” back-to-back. “Green Room” was a gore-filled thriller involving a punk band that gets trapped at a venue operated by Neo-Nazis. I did not realize that both were a Blair joint. It does explain the violence and the pacific north-west setting, but more on that later.
“I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore” revolves around Ruth, a character played by Melanie Lynskey (“Castle Rock”). Ruth is an unassuming medical professional that is constantly walked over by the people in her town. The film explores a pervasive nihilism that permeates modern culture and informs the actions of people in the town. I will be discussing some events in the front end of the film so if you want to remain unsullied from any spoiler, although minor, tear out the next two paragraphs, crumple it up and eat it. You can resume the review after you consume those printed words.
One example is of a schlubby human placing over 30 items in a 10-items-or-less checkout lane at a grocery store. Another is how her neighbors consistently allow their pets to defecate, which means to poop (I didn’t use the OED for this one, but I wanted to help you, dear reader), on her lawn every day.
The movie starts by having her apartment broken into and her living room ransacked. Her laptop, medicine and a set of silverware are taken. The police officers assigned to her case are underwhelmed by her predicament and are too busy with other crimes and their own personal problems. This is not only the beginning of the movie but the beginning of the transformation of Ruth from a passive player to an active actor with complete agency. Her change is helped along by her neighbor named Tony (Elijah Wood) and his dog Kevin (Actor Unknown). Ruth sees Tony as bizarre, which he is, but only insomuch as he has lived an examined life and has a particular set of beliefs and skills. Those include devout Christianity and a reverence for martial arts. Also, a rat tail.
Okay, spoilers over. The chemistry between Ruth and Tony (see above paragraph… unless you ate it) is real and beautiful. Tony helps Ruth come out of her shell. Through their interactions Ruth starts to accept aspects of herself that she thought did not exist in her tool belt of attributes. At first, Ruth is weirded out by Tony and judges his eccentricities. Her cynical view is confronted by sincere, albeit odd, behavior. There is a narcissism in her world view that, most likely, was developed in response to the nihilism that abounds around her, but it’s an aspect that begins to crumble when she replaces it with growth towards self-actualization.
So, as it goes with trying new things, Ruth tends to go a bit too far, but everyone returns happily balanced at the end. The story has a nice flow and the structure will be pleasing to those critical of such things. There are some violent scenes and some rather shocking to view. The story feels perfectly in-synch with the enhanced morbid dreariness of the Pacific Northwest and is juxtaposed nicely next to its characters’ vibrant personalities—once they come out of their shells, that is. The Pacific Northwest is eerily beautiful and enhances the aesthetics and philosophies within and pushes forth the driving action of the plot that acts as a catalyst for the viewer to get up, move around and look away for the especially squeamish.
Despite all that, the heart of “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore” is about creating meaning in a chaotic and impossible-to-understand world. Stop focusing on the actions of others and start making your own actions. Don’t wallow in apathy but build yourself toward a better tomorrow. Build relationships, fall in love and ultimately learn that your happiness is up to you and mainly revolves around the people you care about and that care about you. Life is messy, and the only way to enjoy it is to get a little dirty or brushing that dirt off your shoulder.
And don’t take things so personal, dummy.