What “Shy People” is Really About

https://www.movieartarena.com/imgs/shypeople.jpgHave you ever watched a film and then afterward learned something about the film that completely changed how you understood what you had seen? That happened to me yesterday.

Rick and I watched the “lost classic” Shy People last night. Rick had been reading about the film in Roger Ebert’s entertaining  memoir/sketchbook Two Weeks in the Midday Sun, and we decided we should see it.

It turned out to be an involving horror melodrama about naive urbanites attempting to capitalize on picturesque backwoods cousins only to find themselves trapped in a savage world of religious fanaticism and deranged criminality. Sort of like Deliverance, but with women in all the central roles, a more idiosyncratic plot, and exquisite cinematography. In spite of watching it in a low-resolution YouTube video that was the only version we could find, it was worth seeing.

After watching something interesting I often feel an urge to immediately search the internet to see if anyone has written something interesting about it. And when I did I learned something about this movie that completely changed its meaning for me, something that was quite obvious the moment I read it, even though it never crossed my mind while I was watching the film.

If you’ve seen Shy People, read on. If you haven’t, I encourage you to watch the film first and read this later. It’s not that I have any plot spoilers to reveal, it’s just that it was so mind-bendingly fun to watch the film as one thing and then completely re-imagine it as another that I hesitate to deny you the same experience.

Anyway, what I learned was that…



Shy People is about Stalinism.

That was probably obvious to lots of viewers. As soon as I read about it I thought, Of course! So many things in the movie that seem inexplicable–and give it some of its wild-eyed weirdness–suddenly make a lot more sense once you’re aware of it’s allegorical underpinnings. The all-seeing portrait of Joe. The pining for a television. The son locked up in the shed for reasons that are never explained. The purging of faces from photographs. The family’s conviction that Joe’s baffling cruelty was what saved all their lives.

I knew that I Andrey Konchalovskiy was Russian, but the idea that a film set in the swamps of Louisiana was in any way about Russia simply never occurred to me.

I also learned that Konchalovskiy went to film school with Andrei Tarkovsky and co-wrote some of Tarkovsky’s films. I had thought about Tarkovsky while I was watching the movie, because the otherworldly mystery of the swamp was very reminiscent of Tarkovsky’s indelible, numinous shots of the natural world.

But the fact that I had completely missed the allegorical content of the movie kind of blew my mind.

~ by lolarusa on October 10, 2018.

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