DIRECTED BY JACQUES AUDIARD/FRENCH, ENGLISH/2012
Rust and Bone is a movie about loss. And what you can gain in your loss. Maybe not the most original story, by when handled by French director Jacques Audiard, who directed the masterpiece The Prophet a couple years ago, and starring Marion Cotillard (one of the best actresses working today) and Matthias Schoenaerts (soon to be known as one of the best actors working today), the movie is in good hands. It is also about saving each other.
Cotillard plays Stephanie, a trainer at a Sea World-like center. Schoenaerts plays Alain, a single father who is clearly not ready for that role. These are two deeply imperfect people, to put it mildly. She continuously goes out drinking at clubs, wearing skimpy dresses, so she can be watched by men. All the while she has a perfectly fine, if not sort of pathetic, boyfriend waiting for her at home. He is a womanizer who puts his habits before his son and any attention he pays to his son borderlines on abuse.
If you want a movie that may better help you help other people who are lost and looking for a path to happiness, then “Rust and Bone” may just be the perfect movie for you.
He takes a job as a bouncer at a club. He meets her in one of her evenings out dancing that turns into someone getting a little too aggressive with her. After helping her, Alain gives her a ride home. Soon after, tragedy hits. A mishap at her job causes her to be attacked by a Killer Whale and Stephanie loses both of her legs. After surgery, Alain is the first person she thinks to call.
Morality plays an interesting role in this movie. Are Stephanie and Alain good people? Like all humans, they are a mix of both. And sometimes movie-watchers don’t want that nuance. It is a common complaint that viewers cannot relate to the main characters if they are not good people. But Audiard seems more interested in making a smarter, more realistic movie about real people. People who are flawed and in this case, deeply narcissistic. She uses her beauty to her advantage, he fights people for money. Viewers have been trained to watch movies where egotistical and successful people are humbled by tragedy. It makes us feel better. But is watching others being pulled down really a healthy act for the viewer? Rust and Bone has been viewed divisively by critics for not giving us that movie. Stephanie and Alain aren’t better or worse after her tragedy, they are just different. But the thing is, it DOES get to the point of redemption, just not as fast as some viewers may want. This is definitely a slow-burn movie.
But morality plays another interesting role. Many would call Alain a bad person, especially those sensitive to child abuse. But his flaws are what makes him perfect for her. One of the possible gifts of being “immoral” is not really caring what other people think. The fear of judgment sets people straight. Without that fear though, Alain can be what Stephanie needs. In one scene he takes her to a beach and they go swimming. He carries her back out of the water, and she grips his back and wraps her limbs around his waist, making it clear to everyone on the beach she has no legs. Audiard does some fantastic work with the extras in this scene. As they make the long walk back to their towel, all of the “moral”, “ethical” and “good people” stare at them. Yet Alain has no shame he is there with her. A more moral man would be nice to Stephanie, but would not be caught dead on a beach with her. Alain, luckily, is a “bad” person, which may make him the best person for her.
And by being the bad person who is perfect for her, this movie throws a wrench in the ideas we have of redemption in Western society. It is assumed a person of morals can help a flawed person redeem themselves. Whether it is a minister at a church or another sort of moral figure. But Rust and Bone gives us two equally flawed people carrying each other to redemption. You have seen paintings over the years of a flawed person (a beggar, sinner, and prostitute) on the ground reaching up as Christ takes their hand, invariably to save them. That isn’t what this movie gives. This movie gives two people on the ground holding hands and crawling together. Is that a slap to the ideals we have in of how Christianity works? Or is it possible that Christ is in them both helping them carry each other to where they need to go, and our ideas are not in-tuned to how He really works?
On a side note: this soundtrack is great. Songs from Bon Iver, Lykke Li, and even Springsteen show up. The weakest musician on the list, Katy Perry, has her song used ironically and provides for maybe the saddest moment of the movie, as Stephanie is trying to relive her glory days while confined to her wheelchair.
If you are looking for a movie with easy morality lessons, Rust and Bone may not be the movie for you. But if you want a real movie, to better understand the paths people may take in life to fine redemption; If you want to better understand your friend or neighbor who may have had a sketchy past; if you want a movie that may better help you help other people who are lost and looking for a path to happiness, then Rust and Bone may just be the perfect movie for you.