PG-13 (even though the MPAA wouldn't invent PG-13 for a while after this movie) for kids being awful to other kids, adults being awful to kids, and child rear end nudity in a non-sexual context. There's swearing throughout, but it is so hard to understand at times, you probably miss a lot of it. I watched it with subtitles and I was still confused about what kind of swearing was happening. There's also animal cruelty off-screen.
DIRECTOR: Ken Loach
It's a British The 400 Blows, innit? Yeah. I have a completely unnecessary story attached to this one that doesn't really affect my blog. But do you know what it does do? Take up space. It also creates momentum, so myah! This was a Netflix DVD thing that I lost when we moved. I had written it off as destroyed or thrown away when my wife found it this week, nestled with the stamps. I'm pretty sure I didn't do it, but I can't ever trust me so who knows? Anyway, I had already paid for the disc, so of course I'm going to watch it. And do you know what? I love it. Yeah. I said it.
The British Kitchen Sink drama is something. It reaffirms all my biases about a certain level of working class that makes me a monster. I worked in the inner city before. I am probably someone's evil teacher (even though my core wants to be loved oh-so-much!) These are the movies that depress me in the worst ways. Listen, I tell my students I like depressing things. I don't really know why. Maybe it makes me feel deep or something. But these are the kinds of movies that make me lose hope in humanity. The movie is named Kes because the protagonist, Billy, only finds value in life while training his pet kestrel named Kes. Apparently, a kestrel is a falcon and I learned something new. But every time I watch these kitchen sink dramas, it is a reminder that the world is a terrible place. Now, these are movies. I can't establish this enough because I'm going to rant. These are not documentaries. These are stories that I need to treat as fiction. I get it. I know my own argumentative flaw. But...
...why do villages that focus on manual labor treat everyone terribly? To make the movie work, Billy Casper has to be the most abused human being imaginable. He can't just have a sad life. He has to have an extra sad life. It makes a lovely juxtaposition for when he's playing with Kes and having moments of true happiness. But everyone in this story is terrible to a certain extent. His English teacher is the least terrible other person in this story and that makes sense. He's an English teacher. English teachers pass on the message that the world is a terrible place while desperately trying to fight the battle for humanity's collective souls. But it's not like Kes introduced the notion of manual labor as social hells. Honestly, living where Billy lives depresses everything out of me and makes me give up hope for getting up tomorrow.
Originally, I was going to point to the poor for this. But I just watched L'Avventura and that was a movie about the rich treating each other like dirt. It's just a specific brand of sadism that Billy goes through in this movie. Like, I was wondering how evil Jud could get in the movie. He was so evil, I kept questioning whether or not Jud was actually Billy's brother. Even the movie teases that a bit. But I was wondering what breeds such scorn into people and a fun Wikipedia dive actually answered that question for me. Apparently, during the time that the film was set, there was this initiative to separate students based on ability. Not just by classes, which is something that still happens today in the U.S., but by actual buildings. Billy is one of those worst-of-the-worst students who has absolutely no hope. There's something really depressing about the entire nature of education in this movie. Low academic success fosters resentment towards the students who have few expectations placed upon them.
It's odd that the movie is called Kes. I know that it is semi-autobiographical. But the movie is barely about animals. Sure, there's something heartwarming about Billy's relationship with his bird. But Kes could be anything that Billy finds valuable and has interest in. The notion is that the world is going to squash any kind of healthy outlet for certain people in society. But it is more damning for what people consider a noble profession. There are a handful of jobs that I consider really noble professions. Being a teacher, I'm always going to throw that onto the list. These are jobs that self-sacrifice are part and parcel for the betterment of humanity. Doctor, lawyers, and soldiers all hit this list as well. But for all of these professions, there's the dark underbelly. Doctors have the nip-tucks. Lawyers have the ambulance-chasers. Soldiers and law-enforcers potentially scare me the most when it hits the dark side of of the profession. With teachers, there's something so pathetic about the abusive teacher. And there are stories out there. Kes isn't writing its story in a vacuum. For all of the criticism about the people who survive through manual labor, a lot of it comes from the savagery that they hear in school.
God, the PE teacher? The PE teacher alone was enough to pay attention to this movie. Honestly, and I'm really not holding back, the PE teacher is the archetype I think of immediately when it comes to sports. I'm sorry and I know that it is really isn't fair. But everything about Mr. Sugden (I think I have the right one) scans so hard for me. I don't know why the romanticization of abuse from athletes is really a thing. I keep hearing tales of abusive coaches as forms of inspriation because "they really care." The only vibe I ever got out of these kinds of people are the obsession with being winners at all costs. When Billy recounts how his teachers and peers disrespect him all the time, I just wanted to hug him really badly...and I hate the concept of physical touch for the most part. Because he's right. There are teachers out there who hate the kids who struggle. They want to yell the dumb out of them and it's heartbreaking. Watching that PE teacher foul kids left and right and take out his loss on Billy is what I think of when I hear about "passionate" coaches. AND I ACKNOWLEDGE THAT IT IS UNFAIR. I know that there are English teachers who are monsters out there as well. But Kes is a reminder that some students only have the Mr. Sugdens in life.
There isn't much cause for hope with Kes. I know I'm probably making that pretty darned clear right now. But with the death of the eponymous bird, I don't know what Billy is going to do. There's this vibe that he's going to become Jud. His final scene, he's filled with wrath, swinging the dead bird as a useless weapon against Jud. But he's tiny. He's raised in this environment that gives him a moment of hope, only to turn it around. There's this really great scene where Billy has to stand-and-deliver about his bird and he earns so much respect. (It's in this moment that the English teacher pulls his head out of his rear end and reminds himself that students are people.) From an outside perspective, we know that Billy can train another kestrel. Heck, I was waiting for him to say something to the employment agent about raising kestrels. But Billy's lack of response in that moment is his damnation. As much as the agent sucks, he does try to pry a bit of knowledge out of Billy that might have led to some kind of animal expert. But it's this complete disconnect between student and authority figure that this movie loves playing up that reminds us that Billy is incapable of seeing that decision for himself. Instead, there's this vibe that Billy is going to die because he's too small to exist in this world.
I like depressing and I liked this movie. But I don't like where this is leading me when it comes to looking at humanity. What hope is there that we're going to make it as a people. Is the only reason that I want humanity to be better is because I come from a place of privilege? Geez. It sometimes just hits too hard.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.