Year: 2018 | Rating:
Despite being perhaps the most empathetic art form humans possess, it’s surprisingly rare that you can say that a film perfectly evokes the real-life experiences that it portrays. Personally, I’ve only experienced that feeling less than a handful of times in my life, but it’s a high that I chase with every single film that I watch; I’m constantly in the pursuit of that indescribable feeling of being seen, of realizing that somebody else somewhere knows what I’ve been through and has captured that feeling so that other people can get a better understanding of why I am the person that I am. Validation and being empathized with are like drugs that I’ve become addicted to, especially because I’ve felt so misunderstood by and out-of-place with almost everybody I’ve ever met in my entire life. We the Animals is one such film that “scratches that itch,” so to speak.
I did not grow up as a half-Puerto Rican, half-white child in upstate New York in the 1980s, but I did grow up in similar economic circumstances in southwest Ohio in the 1990s and early 2000s. I know what it’s like to go hungry, to be cold (no heat) or hot (no air conditioning), to have to fend for myself from a young age because my parents were both working more-than-full-time just trying to make ends meet. I know what’s it like to have a volatile and irresponsible father who can be abusive at one moment and telling you how much he loves you the next (one moment that particularly struck home was when Paps [Raúl Castillo] brought home a “big dick truck” that was wildly inappropriate for his family situation; my dad was constantly doing stupid shit like that, taking care of his own wants before the needs of his family). I know what it’s like to be the quiet, thoughtful kid that everyone thinks is weird or fucked up, who has to sneak around at night to write in his journal because he knows that shit would hit the fan if any member of the family knew what he was doing. I know what it’s like to be a sexually-confused gay kid, to have crushes on older boys and to not be into boobs and not really understand why. I know what’s it’s like to have an obscene amount of angst and rage for a ten-year-old child, and to feel like you have no outlet for all of that pent-up negative energy, until eventually the dam breaks and it all floods to the surface in a violent outburst.
And now, thanks to this film, I know that somebody else knows what those things are all like, as well. I know that I’m not alone in having the incredibly complicated upbringing that forced me to grow up way too fast that I did. And, also thanks to this film, I’m able to put those experiences into a context that other people can understand, so that I can express myself just a little bit better. That’s the power of empathetic art, and why I will be forever seeking out that next “hit” of validation and recognition that gets me through until the next one.
As a side note, yes, We the Animals clearly wears its The Tree of Life (2011) and Moonlight (2016) influences on its sleeve and at times feels like an imitation of those films, but I don’t even care. Those are two of my favorite films of all time, and this film hit me in such a powerful place. Even if it is derivative, inject this shit directly into my veins.
Runtime: 1 hr. 34 min.
Director: Jeremiah Zagar
Starring: Evan Rosado, Raúl Castillo, Sheila Vand, Josiah Santiago, Isaiah Kristian