I have sometimes stopped and considered en vogue styles and movie types that have corresponded with various time periods of cinema. Some of them are obvious. Silent films, and the early talkies. Sure. But what about more nuanced differences? Like happy ending trends? Nihilistic movie trends? What about dark and gritty films? It takes a societal trend to cause these movies to occur. Why? Well, because 99% of movies that are created are in the hope of getting CASH. And that cash only comes when a viewing audience resounds with the topic and the style.
But I remember think, as a teen, when the Tim Burton, Michael Keaton Batman came out, ‘This may be one of the darkest movies ever possible for popular movie going audiences.” (Yes, I talk to myself in full sentences like this. Heck, I have literally spoken out loud to my future self. I kid you not. Wah? I don’t know, we were talking about Batman a second ago.) And now? That is possibly one of the funniest sentences I’ve ever heard. Danny Davito as the Penguin is in a movie that I considered one of the darkest movies released to popular movie going audiences? Hahahahah. And now? Hahaha, we have American Psycho in our collective consciousness? Amazing. Batman – “I’m Batmannnnnn.” and “I don’t think I can control myself if you stay, something bad will happen.” And what’s funny there? I can top American Psycho in terms of sheer darkness 10 times over without even trying. Uh, Mandy anyone?
But when we come to movies like Galveston, that reek of darkness, one has to stop and wonder… where does this film land on the scale of the movie darkness continuum, where Pee Wee Herman is on one side, and Mandy is on the other? Yeah, it’d be pretty darn far to the right side of the scale is all I know. And if you were to time travel backwards to say, 1985, when Back to the Future was in the theaters, and we were to put Galveston into movie theaters around the nation – would they lock us up for indecency? Or for inciting a riot? Who really knows, but it would be jarring, that much is for certain.
We though, are here to discuss the movie Galveston. Have we already lost track of this fact? For the love of all that is good and holy, can you not STAY ON TOPIC?! For real. Ok. I know what we should do – we should watch the trailer, and ruin the movie for all those of us here who haven’t see it. Then we’ll send said non-viewers away, to watch the same scenes, but with filler this time.
One of these times I’m going to slip in a trailer for Monty Python’s Holy Grail just to see if you are even paying attention. Alright, from here on out, I’m going to spoil the hell out of this movie. Like, unceremoniously even. So if you haven’t seen the film, do us all a favor and do so before you ruin this gloriously psychically anarchic movie.
Galveston Movie Quick Walkthrough
Did I mention yet that the Galveston screenplay was written by Nic Pizzolatto, who is known for his writing of True Detective, and The Magnificent Seven? (Come on, if my listing out True Detective didn’t stir something deep within your loins, then dang, you are in the wrong place entirely. Just completely.) Because yeah, it was. Which should have told you almost immediately what kind of film you are dealing with here. Which is sort of a You Were Never Really Here, except the violence here is in full frame. It is a decidedly dark, and morally bereft story. So what is it all about?
Apparently, Roy works for Stan – who is something of a local mob boss – doing odd jobs, collecting debts, scaring people, and the like. Well, when Stan (who’s recently stolen Roy’s girl) tells Roy to go to a certain location and to scare some people in the house – but not to bring a gun – something doesn’t seem right. Well, Roy heads over to the house, and his partner is quickly killed in the randomly exploding gun fight that opened up after they are attacked. Seeing a girl tied to a chair, he cuts her loose and they run for it, not realizing that their fates are now inextricably tied to one another.
The woman’s name, apparently, is Rocky (and is played by Ellie Fanning, of Super 8 fame) and she’s apparently run from an abusive home, and has started turning tricks to survive. Which is what brought her to the house when the chaos and the violence exploded. But soon after Rocky and Roy head out on the run from Stan, Rocky convinces Roy to take her past her childhood home. But when a gun shot rings out, and Rocky comes out with her “kid sister”, something has definitely gone sideways.
When the two crash at a long term hotel, things get even worse when Roy notices an article about Rocky’s husband being killed, and their missing daughter. Roy snaps, and goes looking for an old girlfriend of his – because he believes that he is dying from lung cancer. But when she basically rejects him, he takes off. Rocky, meanwhile, returns to turning tricks on the street for money. When a local hotel resident extorts Roy into helping him with a robbery because he knows about the murder that Rocky committed. Oh, yeah, so about that – yeah, Roy kills that guy in a back alley to keep him from ratting them out.
Eventually Rocky comes back from a several day trick-bender, and Roy finds her. And she basically cracks, and explains why she killed her husband through choked sobs and heaving. And then she does the unexpected, she asks Roy not to leave them. Happy ever after though, has less than zero interest in this particular story. And so men in a van come hunting for Roy and Rocky, sent by Stan. And they ruthlessly hurt Roy. And eventually he finds Rocky, naked… and dead. Roy is able to run for it, but crashes his car and ends up in the hospital. It is generally implied that Roy does not attempt to testify against Stan in order to keep Tiffany (Rocky’s daughter) safe.
Did I mention that Roy thinks he’s dying? Yeah, I told you that. Apparently, that wasn’t anything life threatening. And so he serves his prison time, gets out, and Tiffany comes looking for him in the middle of a hurricane. (If that isn’t metaphor worthy, I don’t know what is.) But she has come, looking for answers. Which, we will get to in a moment. And with that… the movie ends.
So, What Do I Make Of Galveston?
Many will come to Galveston and just walk away with chaos, terror, and darkness. Which, might be more than most people take away from your average movie. So there’s that. But compared to True Detective, this thing is slippery as all get out. Like mercury in your hands. But I think it is knowable.
What if we were to look it as a redemptive story. Eh? Well, Roy, perceiving he is on his death bed… having lived a horrible life of crime… stumbling into Rocky, what if he decides to do one good thing in his life, regardless of the circumstances? Is there enough good to eradicate the evil he has done? Well, that is the gamble Roy is playing at here.
But stop. Is there enough good in the world to make up for the evil I have done in this life? Is it even possible? Just from a math equation, this idea is fraught. Do we weight evil? Should we weight good? And what are we aiming for? Zero? Just an attempt to slog our way back up to break even? Even that is nigh on impossible. I mean, I cut off a woman today to get onto the highway first. How shall we score that? -3? And I held the door for a person 10 minutes later. +1? I also basically shivved (metaphorically) a high school girlfriend on my way out the door to England. Is that a -12? -45? There isn’t enough good in the world to make up for my personal life. My family and I are headed to Haiti this weekend to adopt to boys. How many points do I get for that action? +1000? But I’ve lived a life of selfishness, myopy. There aren’t enough kids to adopt to make up for the crap I’ve done.
Or maybe he’s not evening the balance of justice – he’s just doing one good thing before he goes. Roy is fully aware he’s heading to hell. And he’s going with eyes wide open. But on his way, he’s going to try and save Rocky. Ok. I can dig that a little better, I think. But then that makes her rape and murder all the more poignant. What does that say though? It’s impossible to do good, even for those of us that are dying of lung cancer? And she died the worst, most horrible way imaginable. Though he did choose not to endanger Tiffany… so there is that. He ran block for her regardless of whether he got credit for it or not. He knew that he was protecting her, and refusing to endanger her.
Galveston wasn’t amazing. But it surprised me, over and over again, with the darkness of its perspective. The raw grittiness of its own masochism. Reminds me of a section of Black Mirror season 4 episode 6, where the guy that is able to feel other’s pain gets addicted to it. And the fear that people feel. This movie too seems to have become addicted to its own suffering in and of itself.
But Roy attempts to do one last good thing for Rocky – saving her life. That fails, and so he attempts to do one last good thing for Tiffany. But he simultaneously tries to shield her from the enormity of the pain and suffering that her mother went through. Which, I guess, is a good, in and of itself. That though, brings us back to that spectrum of movies from good to bad. The question I have, regardless of where it is on the spectrum is simple enough… why? What is your purpose in dumping joy on the audience? Or what is your point of spray painting us with vitriol? What are you telling us? That the world is dark and irredeemable? Huh. Ok. Or is there are larger point that you are making? Maybe the point here is that in spite of the horrors around us, or the horrors we have done, it is never too late to think of another above ourselves. And that’s a message I can get down with. Maybe.
Final question – was Roy committing suicide when Tiffany drove up? I mean, that hurricane seemed like it was intent on destroying everything in its path, including Roy. Was this a word picture of the judgement he was due? And was Roy completely accepting of said judgement? Hrmmm. I don’t know. What are your thoughts?
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