Thoughts on the movie Rust and Bone

* It’s hard to watch movies about stupid, careless people making stupid, careless choices. When the obvious solution to your problem is “stop doing stupid things,” a person’s predicaments don’t generate much sympathy. It’s painful to watch unforced errors in real life and it might be even more so in fiction. The protagonist’s child is the only real victim. It’s also hard to sympathize with characters who hit children or animals.

* Rust and Bone is like watching a French version of Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960 – 2010. The language is different, as is the attitude towards work and employer relations (see below), but the basic social and individual pathology is similar and cross-cultural. Dysfunction has consequences.

* This is tangential to the movie, but bad romantic choices tend to have more severe repercussions for women than for men, and for children most of all; the fantasy of this movie, however, happens when transparently bad romantic and career choices work out in a fairy-tale fashion. In the real world, sometimes the Fairy Godmother Department is on the clock, but usually the Practical Joke Department runs things. Women who try to corral uninterested players—like men who try to “save” crazy, destructive women—very seldom succeed, yet this is the default template for romance novels.

* France’s notoriously rigid labor markets are practically a character; one sub-plot involves employers sneaking cameras into retail stores to “catch” employees who aren’t hewing to the letter of laws or contracts. This makes no sense: if the employee is unhappy, they should leave; if the employer is unhappy, they should fire the employee. In France the labor market apparently doesn’t function like this, so employers resort to dirty tricks that shouldn’t be necessary in the first place.

In another scene, a truck driver moves from working to a company to being independent to working for a company again, and he describes himself as “exploited,” or joining the ranks of the exploited. He may have been joking (which would mean that I missed the subtext), but if he wasn’t, he has a foreign attitude toward employment. A lot of people today would be happy to be “exploited” via a job. Villainous managers are described as wearing “three-piece suits.”

* Another character refers to employers and employees as being on two “sides,” which is the exact opposite of the mentality startups and tech companies inculcate. Such rhetoric seems outdated, a relic of Marxism or industrial unions. Is it common in France or an artifact of this movie? If you think you can run a business better than your employer does, start your own firm (assuming you’re in a market where entrance is possible; in, say, telecoms, it isn’t).

* To the protagonists, the most important parts of life appear to be winning in zero-sum street fights and looking hot in clubs. Note that I’m not necessarily opposed to either, in isolation. No one in Rust and Bone has any ideas.

* That said, the movie was compelling, though I don’t think I’d recommend it for most people. I was rarely bored but often exasperated.

* Rust and Bone itself wasn’t stupid, although its characters often were. It was reminiscent of high-brow reality TV, but it didn’t resemble most other movies. The sex scenes were done well and arguably too brief, especially in a French movie. Until the last five minutes, Rust and Bone shares some spiritual values with Michel Houellebecq’s work.

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