So, as the internet continues to spin its tangled web of distraction for all of us to get snared in, there was a video accompanied by a series of memes that I’m sure has gone viral by now. The video in question was a 2011 indie film by writer/director Ari Aster entitled “The Strange Thing About The Johnsons,” and the title itself in no way prepared me for what I experienced after sitting through the30-minute movie. Now, I won’t spoil it for you completely, because being the type of person I am, I would suggest that you watch just so you can share the experience with the rest of the internet community,but I will say that the movie itself is not for the faint of heart or the easily disturbed. While there is nothing graphic or even necessarily sexual displayed during the movie itself, the implications as well as the nature of these acts are enough to shake most people to their core. The movie was done with a modest budget but given the subject matter of the story, there wasn’t much need for high production costs, as the true heart of this story lies within the performances by the actors and the setting more so than the actual set PIECES. From a cinephile’s (The term used to describe a passionate interest in cinema, film theory, and film criticism) perspective I think the movie was very well done, although there is a bit of confusion with the holes left in the plot. I believe this was an intentional choice by the director so that we could truly experience the feeling of confusion and disarray that the Johnson family seems to be existing in during their day to day lives. Now when I say well done, I don’t say that in the sense that I “enjoyed” this movie, it honestly was a bit disturbing and it has a lingering effect where certain scenes and moments tend to stick in your mind long after you’ve moved on to watch other things, but THAT right there is the reason why I applaud the movie. It may have been disgusting, disturbing, painful, and sickening for some to watch, but it made you FEEL something and that is the purpose of any art no matter the medium.
Now to get a little deeper, I believe that a LARGE part of why the movie itself sticks out so much in people’s minds is because it is being shown through the lens of the Black family. As we all know, when black families are portrayed in these scenarios, there’s dysfunction but it’s usually done in a comical way where the drama or issues can usually be wrapped up nicely within the 30-90 minute time limit. Or even when the story isn’t TECHNICALLY that of comedy, there’s still the stereotypical set of drama that is usually either ignored completely or again neatly resolved so that everybody has that sense of warm euphoria when the credits run. The director of this movie decided to take that and flip it on its ear entirely. It takes the poster version of the black family and throws an element into it that’s so shocking, it almost makes it into a horror film given the way certain scenes are shot and the acting done by the cast, which I will honestly say isn’t GREAT but it’s convincing and that’s really all it needs to be with subject matter so sensitive. Out of the 3 main actors in the movie, I applaud the father, played by Billy Mayo, and the adult son who is played by Brandon Greenhouse. The performances by these two, although at times a bit over the top, are what really carried this movie to its climax and then bitter ending. The menacing monstrous nature of the son in his role and the frightened state of pained confusion displayed by the father character are a big part of what makes the movie so difficult to digest. I also appreciate that the filmmakers chose to take a topic such as incest and molestation and provide the viewing audience with a “what if…” scenario so to speak and it delivered on answering that question in staggered detail. The film also achieved another goal that it may or may not have intentionally set out to, but in the Black community a lot of times situations such as molestation, incest, pedophilia, etc are swept under the rug or brushed off, as is the case with a lot of different forms of mental illness, but that’s a completely different discussion. The film has taken these dynamics and thrown them directly into our faces in such a way that the lines of communication are somewhat opening, and things like this NEED to be talked about, they NEED to be put on display where it can sicken us so that we can talk about these things to try and bring some kind of resolution or preventative measures in place to keep what little shred of innocence resides in this world for the kids. I personally suggest that if you haven’t seen it, take the chance and check it out. As I said before, you definitely won’t enjoy it. This is one of those movies you watch out of sheer curiousity for the experience, but if you’re able to see beyond the disturbing content and see the deeper story within, I’m sure you, as I have, will be able to take something from it.