Movie : Oakdale, 1959
Director : Josh Garvin
” It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order – and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order. “
~Douglas R. Hofstadter
One can sense a certain kind of ambiguity in the title of the movie. Further there is a sense of specificity in the movie as well. A specific locality, a specific place, a specific time and year. Yet amidst all the ossified details there is a universality that is hinted at as the story develops. We (the viewers) are inhabitants of our own Oakdales and 1959 can be any year. The story is specific and universal at the same point of time, the message is there for everyone to first notice and eventually contemplate.
The story can be read as a Bildungsroman. An affable boy (Chuck) discovers a number of things not necessarily pleasant that initially shatter his perception of the ideal world and he is offered very little time to reconcile and reconstruct a different domain for himself in order to survive, breathe the air of existence full of gloom and despair with a few ‘little boxes’ full of glee. After the occurrence of an incident Chuck is left with very little of himself. In the next moments he tries desperately to overcome his initial shock and deal with his agony in an upright manner. In this process there is some potent coercion practiced by one of his neighbors out of a sense of immediate necessity or obscure rage. The reason remains shrouded by darkness. Chuck is left with his father who appears to be more broken than him and an unfathomable sense of loneliness.
The characters are well written and the writing is further strengthened by impeccable performances by the actors. A special mention must be made of the boy who perfectly brings the innocence of Chuck. His smile when he is about to buy the Popsicle, his shock when he finds out that his mother is no more, his fear when he learns about the ‘order’ that must be maintained in a society, his gloom – everything comes out in the best possible way. The audience is compelled to empathize with a lonely Chuck post his painful enlightenment. Chuck’s mother is both present and absent in the story. We do not see her play an active role in the narrative but every action appears to be somehow related to her. Chuck buying four Popsicle including one for his mother, his neighbor enquiring about his mother’s health and well being, every occurrence has Chuck’s mother in it. We see Chuck’s neighbors, a couple, a henpecked husband and his wife who appears a little manipulative , dominating and suspicious with some secrets that she must protect at all cost. We also briefly encounter Chuck’s grieving father.
The song ‘Little Boxes’ itself has an ambiguous tone about itself. Though sung with utmost glee in the beginning of the movie, the word boxes can be full of surprise or shock. It is similar to the presence of the colour red in the movie. The Popsicle are red in colour (a shade of red) and we also see death and blood(red) in the movie. The movie ends with the same song, this time a slower, sombre version of it , indicating the latter speculation about the box being full of terrible secrets that must remain concealed for the well being of the people in Chuck’s neighborhood.
I must also commend the astute cinematography. The initial use of light, the trees , the bright colours is beautifully contrasted with the dark interior of Chuck’s house. The initial colour suggesting the apparently normal nature of a society juxtaposed by the darkness , the chaos lurking underneath most of the times.
The themes of mental illness, stigma, the pretensions of a society, its obsession with maintaining order, a decent neighborhood from distance appears to be a society trying to eliminate all with aberrant traits , suicide, and oppression have all been delicately handled. The director deserves some credit for dealing with a plethora of sensitive issues in the movie.
The ending scene, where a befuddled Chuck and his dolorous father sit on the road with a number of painful realisations. They stand at the point when they must choose to exist , by accepting the ravages of an indifferent world.
The message is loud and clear. We must take some time before forming opinions about a person, a family or a neighborhood. We must also understand how to deal with aberrant behavioral traits and detach the levity we at times associate with mental health. We must open the little boxes with utmost care and consider the darkness in them as colours seldom chosen and therefore let them be as entities misunderstood.