A scene from Ain't Them Bodies Saints.
By Don Simpson
Writer-director David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a cinematic meditation on poor, rural Texas life in the 1970s (though it often feels like the 1920s or 30s). It is Bob’s (Casey Affleck) desperate economic situation and intense desire to support Ruth (Rooney Mara) that has driven him to become an outlaw. There is presumably very little work available, so Bob’s only available option is to steal from others. These perceived external pressures at work against Bob are somewhat similar to Kit’s situation in Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973). Both films also allude to psychological issues at play within the minds of their male antiheroes. The men are blindly obsessed with their girlfriends to disastrous proportions.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints ain’t just about obsession; it is also about the deteriorating effects of guilt and secrets on one’s soul. Unlike Bob, Ruth seems to understand the grim reality that she and Bob will never be together again, so Ruth has sentenced herself to a loveless life of chastity to punish herself for the crime for which Bob is doing time. Ruth will never be happy because she knows that Bob has offered up his life for her freedom, while Bob will not be happy until he is reunited with his family. All because of one simple mistake — for which nobody died — Ruth and Bob are destined to be unhappy for the rest of their lives.
Like that of an early Malick film (Days of Heaven), cinematographer Bradford Young showcases iconic rural landscapes in transcendent magic hour photography. Lowery’s film is obsessed with the textures and degradation of rusting metal, peeling paint and splitting wood. Everyone and everything is covered with a thick layer of dirt.
Ain't Them Bodies Saints screens at LAFF 2013: June 15, 7 p.m., Regal Cinemas; June 17, 4:50 p.m., Regal Cinemas. For more info: www.lafilmfest.com