Saturday, October 25, 2008
The Rage in Placid Lake -- Weird and Normal
Director: Tony McNamara, 2003.
They say there are two things you can't avoid in this life -- death and taxes. In the US, there are often two other accepted, even expected, personal chapters in life's journey from birth to death: teenage rebellion and mid-life crisis. The Rage in Placid Lake deals with teenage rebellion, but with an unusual slant. What if the rebellion was against weird, and toward normal?
Rage is an award-winning Australian film cast largely with unknown actors (outside of Australia). One exception is Miranda Richardson, who plays Sylvia Lake, Placid's mom. It is a funny but crass satire about conformity, weirdness and being who you are.
The opening scene sets the tone. As Placid (Ben Lee) speaks voice over, "I try to find the positives in my experiences," we see young Placid's first day in school. When Sylvia brings him to the school-yard, while other kids are dressed in drab school uniform Placid is dessed in a white frilly frock! "Darling, just remember you're challenging their pre-conceived notions of sexuality," says Sylvia. As the playground bullies immediately pick up on this and give him the first of the daily beatings he comes to expect, we get a sense of where some of Placid's rage comes from. Gemma (Rose Byrne) puts down her snack of crayons to step in and they become instant best friends.
Even his name is non-conformist. Who would give a kid the name Placid? It's an unusual name and one bound to attract the wrong kind of attention in school. Yet, names sometimes give clues to character (as Yahweh does in the Old Testament). Placid means calm and peaceful, tranquil. And this is who he is, even when picked upon. He lives up to his moniker.
Placid does have inner rage despite his name and manner. His parents have their own suppressed rage, too. In their societal rebellion there is the expression of this rage. How much inner rage do we carry that comes from our childhood? How much of this is suppressed so much that we barely recognize its roots, instead experiencing it as a general sense of angst or dissatisfaction? Rage and anger, regardless of their source, will cause emotional issues if left unresolved.
As Ben and Gemma grow to their senior year in high school, they are different from the rest. She is a scientific genius, a crayon-munching brainiac, while he is simply counter-cultural. They are outsiders in this school community. Both embrace their own strangeness, while shunning the normalcy expected of them. Neither wish to conform.
Gemma's single-dad has plans for her, to go to "uni" (university). He is commited to her but does not see her. He only sees his vision of her future. Ben's parents, on the other hand, are even weirder. Dad Doug (Garry McDonald) is a DJ on "Care Radio." Sylvia is an explorer in all senses of the word: geographic, artistic, sexual. They are new-age hippies, and they are apathetic and absent. Ben and Gemma have only themselves and their platonic friendship to hold on to.
When Ben makes a short film and wins a significant award, enough to do what he wants, he goes too far in the award ceremony. Flipping out, he finds himself in the hospital, his body broken. As he mends, he decides he has had enough of weirdness and non-conformance. He fills his head with self-help mumbo-jumbo, gets a taming haircut and buys a cheap suit. He attempts to become normal, even getting a job as an accountant.
When Ben's parents find him in a closet with a suit putting on a tie, they are beside themselves. How could this have happened! They would rather he were drinking coffee, discussing philosophy or even doing drugs. He has sold out. He has joined the masses. He is no longer a uniquely creative counter-cultural individual, thinking for himself. He is now a minion, a thoughtless drone whose future is clear: wife, career, family, retirement, death.
Rage poses the question, is it worth giving up individuality and uniqueness, even weirdness, to become accepted if it leads to boredom and banality? In the accounting firm, there is no place for creativity, or self-expression. What are the positives in this? If we have to subvert who we are to "get ahead" or even just to live "normally" is this a fair trade? God has made us to be ourselves. If we try to be different, even if different is more "normal," we will be fighting against our own inner grain. This can only lead to dissatisfaction with life, even while others might see success. If nothing else, Rage reminds us that we need to find out who we really are, not who society thinks we should be. As we strive to discover our own identity, how God chose to make us unique, we will find contentment and joy. It's not what others say or think; it's what God says and thinks that counts.
The counter-cultural revolution that the entire Lake family was living also reminds us that Jesus preached a message that was radically counter-cultural in his day, and still is even in our day. His sermon on the mount, found in Matthew 5-7, is a strong message of how a citizen of the kingdom of God should live while alive in the kingdoms of man. The Jewish peasants in the Roman empire, or the American cube-dwellers in the 21st century, are challenged to be perfect, to have a singular focus and devotion on God (and not money), to deal with our own faults before finding fault with others. To be a follower of Jesus is to be a counter-cultural revolutionary. We may not look or act like Placid, but like him we need to go against the grain of societal mores and pressures.
Finally, Placid Lake shows us that attitude is important, even key. He looks for the positive in his experiences. Even his beatings teach him something. Where he could have easily turned bitter, even murderous, he allowed life's harshness to refine him. Peter tells us to let our faith be refined (1 Pet. 1:7). As we take on the attitude of Christ (Phil. 2:5), we can look for God's hand at work in the movement, macro and micro, of our lives. We can and should look for the positives in our experiences.
Copyright ©2008, Martin Baggs
at 7:00 AM