CHILD OF GOD (2013)
Directed by James Franco
Set in rural Tennessee during the 1960’s, CHILD OF GOD follows the story of Lester Ballard. When his father’s house is auctioned off against his will, Lester’s life spirals downhill as he turns from a social misfit into a deviant and ultimately, a necrophiliac murderer.
In one of the most outstanding performances I’ve seen these past few years, actor Scott Haze stars as lead Lester Ballard, a young man who’s whole life has been one of misery. After his father killed himself when he was young, and his mother ran away, Lester was left on his own. When the townsfolk auction off his father’s home, Lester finds himself with nothing whatsoever. Nowhere to live. No-one to call a friend. Nothing. Traipsing through the woods, Lester eventually comes across an abandoned cabin which he decideds to inhabit. It’s during this isolation from everyone and everything that he slowly descends into depraved acts and, eventually, murder.
The film itself is directed by James Franco and co-adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s 1973 novel of the same name. I couldn’t have chosen a better title myself and it accurately reflects that Lester is a child of God, the same as you or I. He’s been moulded by his experiences, as we all are, but his experiences have led to a very unfortunate life for Lester, one that he can’t necessarily be blamed for.
I’m interested to hear people’s opinions on this movie as I felt a range of emotions but not one of them was anger at Lester. For the most part of the film, I felt a great deal of sympathy and sadness for Lester, from being evicted from his home, to being accused of rape and attempting to forge relationships, even if the objects of his affection are long deceased. That’s not to say all the events are sombre as there are the odd light-hearted moments. I even found myself smiling a couple of times during the film, the main one being Lester’s success on the shooting gallery game at the local fairground, which sees him acquiring a set of ‘friends’ – a stuffed tiger and two giant teddies. His yearning for a connection, even just someone to talk to, sees these stuffed animals the nearest thing has has to companions. These certain moments throughout the film, which included the toys, did tickle me with their subtle humour.
Why does this film work so well? It would have to be down to the hardhitting story, the exceptional direction from James Franco, who also shows his face for a very minor role at the latter end of the film, and of course, the amazing Scott Haze. I’ve never seen Scott in anything else before, but after becoming the character of Lester, I’m compelled to see more of his work. He plays Lester so naturally and embodies this guy who, through no fault of his own, is a social misfit in every sense of the word. He’s unable to to make friends, has no family and has no home, and must live a life of solitude in anywhere he can find. This lonely man is essentially homeless and the townsfolk do nothing to help him, instead they see him as a hindrance and would rather he not blemish the town with his lack of hygiene and social etiquette. You could say that the crimes Lester ends up committing are the fault of the townsfolk around him who didn’t help him when he needed help. Had they been there for him and assisted him, they could have prevented all the misery that ensues for both parties. Despite the horrific crimes he commits, I found myself, as a viewer, actually liking Lester and wanting only the best possible outcome for him, even though he deserved to be punished for his actions.
A thoughtful, tragic and powerful tale that looks at society, the way that it treats people that don’t fit the ‘norm’ and the subsequent repercussions, CHILD OF GOD is an absolute must-see.