The Other Side

The Other Side ★★★★

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the dubious setup of Robert Flaherty’s Louisiana Story, whose essentially lovely depiction of naturally-attuned Cajuns is consistently at odds with its funding by - and subsequent valorization of - the oil company that’s installing a new well in the swampland around their home. Now, 60 years later, we get a look at the sort of situation borne out from that original agreement, by which the residents traded the sanctity of their land for some much-needed profit, not realizing the possible long-term effects of such a Mephistophelean deal. Jobs have moved, the internal economy of local providers and workers has been traded out for in-sourced products, and residents have been tossed out like trash, left to forage for scrape and shoot up in dingy, darkened trailers. A sustained destruction of family is depicted, even as the drug-addled individuals at the center of the story struggle to keep those bonds intact (the enormous empathy displayed here, along with a Costa-esque ability to insinuate into the actual fabric of these people’s lives, saves it from mere political rubbernecking).

I am admittedly hesitant about the film’s inevitable status as a curio intended to document how the “other half” of America actually lives, but can’t really stress out too much over such potential concerns. I was, on the other hand, dazzled by the late-film switch in subject, which occurs after a final severing of family bonds (Mark gets married, his mother likely dies and he heads to jail to get clean as promised) leads us into a newly born family structure constructed along lines of reactionary response, rather than begruding acceptance. For all their paranoia, the militia-men profiled here (like most survivalists) have a logical basis of argument - that the US is an imperialist entity which forces residents of other countries to bend to its “democratic” will - but twist that idea in such a hateful direction (all “they’re coming for our guns” rhetoric and talk of martial law and internment camps) that it’s hard to empathize. It is easy to see how they’ve come to this conclusion; a military background (or regretful lack thereof), combined with the natural urge to protect one’s own family, easily mutates into anti-establishment rage in this kind of forgotten economic wasteland, where everyone seems to be either self-medicating or gearing up for battle.