The Strange Ones (2011)

*. There’s a difference between being strange and being a stranger. The Man and the Boy (David Call and Tobias Campbell) in this short film have no names. We don’t know who the Man and the Boy are or what the relationship between them is. We discover them on the road, on foot, and don’t know where they’re coming from or going to. The film’s first line is a question, “Where are we?”, that isn’t answered.
*. On foot because their car has broken down? Because they ran out of gas? Is it even their car? They stop at a motel and the Boy jumps into the pool. The Man tells the motel attendant (Merritt Wever) that they’re brothers going to see their dying mother. The Boy tells her that he’s been kidnapped and that the Man is dangerous. Afterward, she watches the two of them fight, and then display affection toward each other.
*. It’s a short essay in ambiguity, which is not the same thing as obscurity. The feature film that the writing-directing team of Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein would go on to spin out of this in 2017 would be obscure. But here we’re left in the position of spectators, like the motel attendant, looking through windows, doorways, and chain fences, not hearing what the two are saying to each other and left only with gestures and expressions that could mean different things.
*. Interpretations abound. I see it often taken as a film about a gay relationship, though I’m not sure where this is coming from. Where are the signs of anything sexual in nature between the Man and the Boy? My own initial take was that they were just a pair of petty thieves or grifters, looking to either rob the motel or take advantage of the attendant in some way. But that’s only based on their appearance and the fact that at least one of them is lying about what they’re doing on the road.
*. Being strange or a stranger always assumes some benchmark either of normality or in-group status. I think we’re meant to identify with the attendant here, on the outside looking in at these weird arrivals. Though the fact that the film begins with the two of them and not with her is a point against such a reading. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that she’s the strange one though.
*. Some people hate movies like this, which present mysteries without solutions. I think they walk a fine line between cutesy coyness and obfuscation. In this film we aren’t given enough information to arrive at any clear sense of what’s going on, but perhaps because it’s a short I didn’t feel as though anything was being held back. It represents a fragment without any dots to connect. I wouldn’t look to the later movie as an explanation any more than I would to Joan Lindsay’s novel to explain Picnic at Hanging Rock. What you see, through a dirty glass doorframe and a couple of layers of fencing, is what you get.

5 thoughts on “The Strange Ones (2011)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I thought the ambiguity mostly worked here, because of the perspective. We’re sort of like the motel attendant, which itself is symbolic of how we perceive others who just drop in and out of our lives.


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