Riding waves

(Movie 2019)

This movie has been described as having an anti-narrative perspective which s a new concept I’ve recently learned about. Waves deliberately avoids the typical conventions, a movie centred around the dynamic of a black family, with a crime centred core which avoids the generic black prison crime movie experience. The family are well off, the Dad has a good job, the son, Tyler, is  in a living relationship and is a wrestler. A wrestler. A sport which is renowned for being high pressured and intense. In a parallel universe Tyler is Rasheed and plays basketball at high school, which is what we come to usually expect. This movie is a rare breed. I myself, feel like I’m not a stereotypical black person, and this is a luxury I’ve enjoyed since I was young. Art, film, writing, meditation & history are all things I love, but aren’t things which people typically associate with the generic black experience. Element’s of Tyler’s experience can be related to by almost anyone, outside of race, religion or any other distinguishing human feature. We see from Hollywood time and time again, the attempt to bridge the gap of inequality by holding up a mirror to societal pasts but, this, this is what really makes a difference in our overall understanding of the black experience. Other shows I think do this are. Fence, Sorry to bother you & Atlanta.

When a major event happens in a movie, like sending someone to prison, the general direction that of the story is to  focus on the judicial experience of the protagonist. This movie however focuses on the effect that Tyler going to prison has on the rest of the family. Emily, the sister, who went to the same school as Tyler was significantly impacted, and we get to experience life through her eyes, we’re privy to an attempt at overcoming her anguish. How people who go through tragic events is usually portrayed through the eyes of the person going through it. This helps intensify the event and allows the viewer opportunity to empathise. I didn’t get this from Waves. Tyler, who was the protagonist for the first half of the movie, commits a horrific crime, goes to prison and that’s where his story physically ends. I think we see him once in prison eating alone and then the camera fades out to a birds eye view, which gives us a detached moment from what he’s going through. This to me portrayed the insignificance of the situation. It’s as if the direction of the movie is forcibly avoiding this experience and not letting our imaginations run wild with the possible prison repercussions from the heinous crime committed. There’s an eerie sense of reality to the whole sequence, and it took me back to the crime itself. It wasn’t borne out of evil or psychopathy, it was something we could all relate to; jealousy, disappointment and being drunk. His character, even though massively fucked up, didn’t deserve the brutality we usually get from these movies.

Tylers’ story continues through his sister, Emily, who is bullied, chastised and also isolated due to her brothers crime. We learn this when she explains it to her love interest who saves Emily from her situation. A hero of sorts. Emily is completely innocent, and her character was shown as caring and quiet throughout.  It’s sad to see how she’s being treated by the other students, but maybe it’s also understandable. Kids can be cruel and school is tough, but her love interest signifies forgiveness, joy and support providing a way out of the misery in Emily’s story. Again, the easy way to direct the story would be to double down on the hate, show eggs thrown at her, some family member of the victim attacking Emily, and because that’s the narrative we’re used to, that’s what you expect. This movie is a curve ball, which very much mimics reality. We all expect the very best or the very worst in challenging situations, but for the most part everything ends up in the middle. Even the most extreme situations can be littered with the mundane. War. Trauma. Violence. Tragedy. Depression. Loss. Death. We’ve all been there, the moment after hearing some bad news, or after something horrible has happened. The moments before wars start or the build up to a mental disorder. In this story, the tragedy occurs, and because your attention is removed from the protagonist, you can reflect through the momentum and everyday moments of the new protagonist.

The Dad. Sterling K Brown did an excellent job as Ronald Williams who is the father of Tyler and Emily. From the outside we can see he works hard, works out and expects too much from his son. We’re shown a idealistic idol in Ronald, who represents the often unattainable father figure. Some fathers do better than their sons, just in life. Some sons do better than their fathers, but to live in the shadow of your father, and for your father to hold you down in the shadows, is dangerous. The Dad could’ve been portrayed as a fuck up. But again, we get the unexpected. Wrestling, as previously mentioned is one of the most physically and mentally demanding sports for High schoolers. The writers could’ve chosen basketball or football. Easier to recognise & easy for the audience to connect with, but they chose a lesser known sport which had true relevancy to the story. Substance over flair. Loyal to the story as opposed to appeasing the audience, this is the essence of try authenticity and bravery in creating a story. Tyler becomes injured, doesn’t tell his Dad who over exerts him and there are moments when we see Tyler asking for help and his Dad ignores. From a birds eye view it would seem easy to blame Tyler’s Dad for the predicament he gets himself into as we see throughout the movie how the self destructive actions of one person can cause irrevocable damage to life of another. The chain effect of life. Sterling is stern, measured and cold. The way he acts is in stark contrast to the movie’s visually warm feel, bright colours, soft textures and glossy landscapes. I still could empathise with Sterlings character, always wanting the  family to succeed, and work things out. Pushing hard and ignoring pain is a stereotypically masculine trait which Sterling passes on to his son who pays the ultimate price.  

There are lots of moments in the movie when characters are forced to reflect. Small scenes, shot from a distance or  close up, with no dialogue, allowing the viewer to go through the emotion with the character. I like this because this is life, and even though these days our time is gobbled up by our phones, there are moments of reflection. Staring at a billboard waiting for a bus or blanking out whilst your wife tells you off, there are moments when the mind detached from the first world experience and you reflect. There are times when you can feel momentarily overwhelmed, sad, angry or elated, but the mind is detached from the world and you’re in thought, wherever that is. Films which surprise me have a greater impact on me than films which are just good. Even though the reviews for this move were excellent, I heard no buzz, saw no trailers, and the storyline seemed standard. From the outset, the acting and cinematography gripped me, then the storyline unfolded and I followed suit on a wonderful journey. It goes to show, you don’t need big budgets and machine gun marketing to make a good movie. It’s all in the details, and with the producers sticking to a solid concept, they’ve created an amazing film which I hope gets more recognition as it matures. I need more like this.

Soundtrack is great too!

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